Review: “The Last Dance” Documentary on NBA Legend Michael Jordan

Back+of+Michael+Jordan%27s+Bulls+Jersey+with+his+well+respected+number+23.+

artwork by Caeli Willard

Back of Michael Jordan's Bulls Jersey with his well respected number 23.

Zachary Grover, Staff Writer

The team with arguably the best sports dynasty ever could have been the subject of a reality television show and not a documentary that has captured the world’s attention during the coronavirus pandemic. The 1990s Chicago  Bulls were truly one of a kind. The late ‘90s Bulls had it all, the superstar in Michael Jordan, the wingman in Scottie Pippen, a crazy and boisterous personality in Dennis Rodman, the vilified general manager in Jerry Krause, and plenty of fan speculation to go along with it. The break up sounds like something fit for MTV and not ESPN. However, here we are.  The ten-part documentary, The Last Dance, chronicles the end of the Chicago Bulls dynasty during the 1997-1998 NBA season.

   The documentary has exclusive footage from a private film crew that had access to the Bulls for the entirety of that final ‘97-’98 season. The footage includes players like Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan openly mocking general manager Jerry Krause — sometimes even to his face, with Jordan once saying, before practice one day, “Jerry, are those the diet pills that keep you short?” Tensions between Krause and players boiled over when Krause was quoted in a Chicago newspaper as saying, “Organizations win championships, not players.” 

   Footage also includes pregame and postgame locker room discussions, practice montages, team flights, and bus rides, and even coverage of some of the unheard-of tactics Head Coach Phil Jackson used on his players. Jackson gave each one of the players a book or sometimes multiple books that he thought fit their personality that he expected them to read by the end of the season. He also incorporated Zen Buddhism into his practices and revolutionized basketball with the triangle offense.  

   Interviewees conducted for the documentary are a long and impressive list. Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Bulls Owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and former Bulls guard and current Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr all make regular appearances. Other interviewees include local Chicago media personnel during the Bulls run, current ESPN Analyst Michael Wilbon, University of North Carolina Head Men’s Basketball Coach Roy Williams, former Bulls Coach from 1986-1989 Doug Collins, and Basketball Legends Larry Bird and Ervin “Magic” Johnson. 

   The documentary transitions between the ‘97-‘98 season and the beginning of Michael Jordan’s career. Before Jordan, the Bulls were bringing fewer fans in the door than an indoor soccer team called the Chicago Sting, according to Reinsdorf. Bulls Fan Ian Grover remembers going to Bulls games with his family before Jordan came to the Bulls when the stadium was nearly empty. “When Jordan arrived, the excitement around the Bulls grew exponentially,” he said. “The stadium was sold out, and tickets were almost impossible to get.” Jordan arrived and the other core pieces of the team — Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, and James Paxson — soon followed. The Bulls won five championships in a seven-year span and were looking for their second three-peat entering the ‘97-‘98 season. Management had made it very clear that the ‘97-‘98 season was the last for Coach Phil Jackson and the team together. “Even if they win 82 [games],” Reinsdorf had stated when he signed Jackson to a one-year pact in the summer of 1997. What was Jackson’s title for the team handbook that all the players got at the first team meeting that year? The Last Dance. 

   Ratings for the documentary through the first four episodes have been high. According to the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) and a website about television ratings, the documentary brought in a whopping 6.1 million average live viewers for episodes one and two, with many more tuning in through DVR and the ESPN app and streaming services (decider.com). This made it the most viewed ESPN documentary ever, and we have just passed the halfway point. UC High Senior Basketball Player Jonah Doolittle has been tuning in to the documentary. “I think it is cool to see how the NBA was back in the day and to see what the players thought during that time,” he said. “I think it is a great documentary, and I’ll keep watching it.” Tune in every Sunday night at 6 p.m. Pacific Time through May 17 live on ESPN to get your fill of the greatest of all time and enjoy some behind the scenes footage.