5 things we can’t wait to see in ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’
The answer to our insatiable sports-starved psyches. "The Last Dance" premieres tonight.
Hours upon hours of unseen footage. The blueprint for how one of the most revered dynasties in sports was built, and the underlying conflict(s) that dragged it down. An unprecedented peeling back of the curtain of a run of domination that endures as mythology in the present day, and the cast of characters behind it.
It's sure to be eye-opening, nostalgic and educational all at once. And a tremendous amount of fun.
Here's what we can't wait to see and explore over the course of the next five weeks.
How the tension between players, coaches and management unfolded
Here inlies, perhaps, the most pressing conflict of "The Last Dance": tension between the Bulls' players and coaching staff, and management. At the center of it will be the presumed protagonist in Michael Jordan, along with general manager Jerry Krause and owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
That much was evident in the five-minute teaser trailer ESPN released late last week, which began the process of profiling Krause, who is credited with assembling the teams that dominated the 1990s (the one exception being Jordan, who was drafted shortly before Reinsdorf and a group of investors purchased the team and installed Krause). Early returns indicate that the portrait of Krause, specifically, will be an unrelenting one — if not harsh. Already in promotional materials, interview subjects from Reinsdorf to Sam Smith have touched on Krause's, at times, alienating nature and desire for reverence on a level with that of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and others.
Management’s influence is even embedded into the title of the film, "The Last Dance," which was a moniker for the '97-98 season thought up by Jackson because of the warring interests that foretold the splintering of the dynasty. Krause passed in 2017 and thus won't be heard from directly in this docuseries, but he is sure to be omnipresent. As will Reinsdorf, whose influence looms over all these conflicts, as well.
The Zenmaster in action
The case for Phil Jackson’s spot among the absolute greats in NBA coaching history begins with his 11 championship rings. Six of those came over the course of the Bulls’ two three-peats. Then he led the Los Angeles Lakers to another in the early 2000’s followed by back-to-back chips with LA in 2009 and 2010.
What is sure to be illuminated in “The Last Dance” is a behind-the-scenes look at what made Jackson such a master strategist and builder of relationships. Remember: These Bulls teams featured some big personalities, egos and ever-changing parts. But Jackson made the machine run at maximum efficiency through it all with unconventional methods ranging from meditation to incense-burning and beyond. Watching him in action is sure to be fascinating.
The ruthlessly competitive Michael Jordan
"When you see the footage of [me (Jordan) being hard on Scott Burrell], you're going to think that I'm a horrible guy.”
That quote, paraphrased from Jordan via “The Last Dance” director Jason Hehir in an interview with Richard Deitsch of The Athletic, made the rounds last week and further bolstered the hype around the series. While no one is under the impression that Jordan behaved well in demanding the most from his teammates, the inside look we’re about to get into his leadership style will definitely cast a light on a ruthlessly competitive side we haven’t seen before.
Those anecdotes, paired with present-day Jordan’s explanation of them and his general philosophies, will go a long way towards telling his complete, honest story — something the doc has promised to do. All of this should only add to his legend.
The scale (and all of the cameos)
The term "rock and roll band" (specifically, the Beatles), gets thrown around a lot when discussing this Bulls’ team and the scale of its impact. By all accounts, the entire city of Chicago spent the majority of the 1990s in a perpetual state of vibration as the Bulls cemented themselves as the center of the basketball universe.
But even that undersells the global and cultural impact this team had, which is sure to be illuminated over the course of the next five weeks. Take a look at the list of people interviewed for the film as evidence (also via The Athletic). Some of the more notable yet random non-basketball names include: Barack Obama, Carmen Electra, Nas, Justin Timberlake and more. That should be quite the subplot to track.
In a Q&A with Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, Hehir said this about the structure of “The Last Dance”:
“It was dictated by the ’97-98 season. That was the main highway that we kept coming back to. And we would refer to taking exits and taking little detours off of that main highway. But the highway was the ’97-98 season. And we could get off on an exit and study somebody’s story. But we had to get back to that highway.”
Each episode of the series is dedicated to one month of that ’97-98 season (with two episodes for May, the playoffs, towards the end), and those “detours” will feature flashbacks and tell the stories of how the dynasty was built, and the invisible threads that dragged it down.
Scottie Pippen and Jordan’s upbringings are sure to be explored. As will Pippen’s foot surgery saga that cost him half of the ’97-98 season. Rodman coming into the fold will surely spawn a number of compelling storylines. So too might Jordan famously riding Burrell, the team’s legendary assistant coaches (Tex Winter and Johnny Bach), and on and on.
The team on the floor and the banners in the rafters are only the beginning of this story. We can't wait to live it.