Packed full of never before seen footage, new interviews and a highlight reel for the ages, The Last Dance gives a rare and insightful look at the inner workings of the prototypical modern sporting megastar.
This review of The Last Dance (Netflix) is based on The Last Dance Episode 1 and The Last Dance Episode 2 and contains spoilers.
Few sportspeople have successfully managed to transcend their sport and become a brand in quite the way that Michael Jordan did. Not only did Jordan successfully manage to become an icon in the sport of basketball, but his image was also somehow emblematic of the ’90s as a decade.
The Last Dance, now streaming on Netflix, is the latest deep dive into the career of a sporting legend and even after just two episodes should be considered must-see TV for anyone with the smallest of passing interests in basketball, or even just sport in general.
Produced in conjunction with ESPN films (who have a fine track record all of their own), The Last Dance tells the story of the Chicago Bulls’ troubled 1997-98 season, a period in the franchise’s recent history dominated by infighting, intrigue, and politics, all set against the backdrop of one of the finest achievements in modern American sporting history.
The Last Dance Episode 1 starts us off with an intro into where the team is as of the off-season of 1997. Having successfully won back to back NBA titles and their fifth since 1991, the front office of the Bulls is considering breaking up the team so that they can rebuild it once more around their star player. Convinced that they are taking this step too soon, Jordan is in open rebellion against the divisive General Manager, Jerry Kraus. Jordan, the coach, and the rest of the team believe that this aging side has what it takes for ‘One Last Dance’ and a shot at an unprecedented second ‘threepeat’.
The narrative trammels back forth, telling the story of the 97-98 season before flashing back and forth to earlier in Jordan’s career to give us an insight into the forces that shaped Jordan into the unique figure in the game that he became.
The story takes us back to Jordan’s collegiate career, through the 1984 draft where he is taken with the 3rd overall pick, right the way through to the climax of his rookie season where he is awarded the league’s rookie of the year award, having carried the struggling franchise through much of the season. Meanwhile, in 1997, the Bulls are just about to commence the regular season.
The Last Dance Episode 2 picks up where the last ends, at the start of the 1997 season. However, for large chunks of the episode, the narrative focuses on one of Jordan’s teammates, Scottie Pippen. For those familiar, Pippen was the Bulls’ number two man, described by one interviewee as Robin to Jordan’s Batman. Even with the best player in the league at their disposal, they would struggle without Pippen. Feeling marginalised and undervalued by the Franchise, Pippen delays surgery on an injury that prevents him from starting the season and he declares war on Krause, further exposing the cracks in the harmony of the Chicago Bulls organisation.
Uniquely, a camera crew was granted access to behind the scenes of the Bulls that season and so we are treated to some brilliantly exposing never before seen footage of a team at the end of its cycle and further revealing insight into the man that became known as ‘MJ’.
In addition to the archive footage are plenty of new interviews with a who’s who of modern basketball and beyond, Jordan’s family and friends, teammates and the man himself. It is these recent interviews that provide the most interesting counterpoint to the story being told. Current day Jordan looks at ease and relaxed with his whiskey and cigars, yet we are given story after story, clip after clip of a singularly, competitive, driven and uncompromising figure. One whose need to win every time allowed him to become a global megastar.
The Last Dance Episode 1 and The Last Dance Episode 2 are as good as any sporting documentary I have come across. The interviews are insightful, the footage revealing and highlight reels sizzle. If the next eight episodes manage to maintain this standard then Netflix and ESPN deserve all the plaudits they inevitably have coming their way. Move over Hoop Dreams, there is a new GOAT in town.
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