‘The Last Dance’: Rodman’s on a roll

FILE - In this June 16, 1998, file photo, NBA Champions, from left: Ron Harper, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan and coach Phil Jackson are joined on stage by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, second from right, during a city-wide rally in Chicago to celebrate the Chicago Bulls 6th NBA championship. Jordan described his final NBA championship season with the Chicago Bulls as a “trying year.” “We were all trying to enjoy that year knowing it was coming to an end,” Jordan told Good Morning America on Thursday, April 16, 2020. Associated Press

By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer

Through two weekends of “The Last Dance,” viewers are as ecstatic as Dennis Rodman after his two day vacation to Las Vegas in the middle of the 1997-1998 season. Weekend one was a huge hit with over 6.1 million viewers watching both episodes, the highest total for any ESPN documentary.

Night two didn’t let up. Episode three featured Rodman, the enigmatic power forward who led the back line for the second three-peat. He also is one of the most controversial players in NBA history, racking up technicals, new hairstyles and famous girlfriends. One of the best moments of the night followed Rodman’s leadership of the team transformed into an escape with his girlfriend Carmen Elektra.

The ultimate winner of night two is the pacing. The first two episodes showed the viewers Michael Jordan’s meteoric rise to stardom, but episodes three and four focused on the Bulls’ subsequent rise.

That climb followed the team’s growth into two new coaches. First, Doug Collins allowed MJ to form into the ball dominant savior everyone fondly remembers. After three years under the Jordan coach, Phil Jackson was promoted to head coach and became the players’ coach.

Jackson’s team-first leadership frustrated “His Airness,” but it led the Bulls past Jordan’s nemesis, the Detroit Pistons. Another highlight of the night was Jordan’s reaction to Isiah Thomas’ interview on walking off the floor without shaking hands after being swept in the ‘91 playoffs. Even after almost 30 years, it’s amazing that the rivalry is still so potent.

Those feelings are what make this documentary special. It’s all access to the most famous and influential basketball players and coaches of the NBA’s most famous and influential period of success. Even for those of us who weren’t around to see Jordan switch hands midair or beat Magic in the ‘91 Finals, we can connect the emotions they had then and carry now to the pain and joy and anger of the current generation.

I’ve never seen a show that carries this level of nostalgia. It pushes sports fans back to a time most remember fondly, and even though most serious followers of the NBA know every step of this story, it’s just a lot of fun to hear the actual participant’s perspectives on what happened and why it matters.