Watch It Now: The Last Dance
What’s the story?
It’s 1997. The Chicago Bulls have just won their fifth NBA championship in seven years but, as the new season approaches, the dynasty is crumbling. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, is still there, but he’s annoyed by how back-office staff are (not) looking after his coach and ageing team-mates.
Nevertheless, where there’s Jordan, there’s hope. The Last Dance begins as the Bulls set out on the quest for a sixth title. Jordan’s longtime accomplice, Scottie Pippen, has ruled himself out of the first few games of the season, and the Bulls are struggling without him. But their struggles are nothing compared to what they used to be.
This is where the documentary jumps off for the first time into the twin origin stories of how Jordan became the world’s best player and how – with a fearsome combination of otherworldly talent and will to win – he helped turn the Bulls into the world’s best team.
When a 21-year-old Jordan was drafted by the Bulls in 1984, he walked into a struggling franchise that was also what a journalist once described as a ‘travelling cocaine circus’. Seven years later, they won their first championship. The second, third, fourth and fifth came along quickly, but would there be a sixth?
That’s the story this ESPN documentary series is finally ready to tell.
Who are the stars?
You’ve heard the legend. Now meet the man. Jordan is the dominant figure on the court, of course, and, in the late 90s, probably the biggest star in the world. Now in his own late 50s, he’s still got big-time presence as he reflects from his armchair, while smoking cigars and drinking something smooth and expensive from a tumbler.
Pippen, a Hall of Famer and all-time great in his own right, is in some ways even more interesting. The youngest of 12 children, he had fraternal responsibilities that obliged him early on to accept the security of a long – but relatively cheap – contract with the Bulls. Having been the star of his own show through high school and college, adjusting to the role of Jordan’s number two – while feeling undervalued by management – was always going to be tricky.
You’ll also meet many of their team-mates, coach Phil Jackson and members of Jordan’s family, as well as his high-school and college coaches and team-mates. The only person missing is Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Bulls and, by 1997, a cause of many of their problems. He died in 2017, but everyone else – right up to Chicago native Barack Obama – is here to look back.
Who’s it for?
Who isn’t it for? At the time, the exploits of Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman echoed around the world. Any sports fan who grew up in the 90s will remember how they even made basketball popular over here. The Last Dance is a chance to relive the game-changing story of Air Jordan and the Bulls.
For everyone else, The Last Dance is the sum of its parts, and those parts happen to be pretty special. Back in 97-98, the cameras had unprecedented behind-the-scenes access – and it shows. From the present day, the makers have gathered a formidable set of interviewees that includes all of the surviving characters, plus the likes of Obama. And then, often set to a terrific soundtrack from the era, there’s the on-court stuff. You don’t have to follow basketball to recognise that Jordan’s Bulls were playing a different game to everyone else.
In a smart bit of scheduling, Netflix is releasing the ten-part series as weekly double-bills – episodes three and four just landed in the UK on Monday. There’s enough in each pair of episodes to make them a significant new weekly happening, but they also leave the viewer wanting more. This is event television, just like they used to have back in the 90s.
Watch it now on Netflix
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