“The Last Dance” has provided millions of viewers of endless entertainment in the roughly three-and-a-half weeks since its debut — a collective, enthralling and nostalgic experience amid a time of great turbulence.
Coming in, most pretty much figured that would be the case. After all, how could a 10-part, behind-the-scenes, tell-all documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls disappoint? But perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise of the monocultural event so far has been its soundtrack, which has drawn praise and excitement from every nook and cranny of the internet. Those who stitched together the musical undercurrent to the tales of Jordan and the dynasty Bulls had their fingers perfectly on the pulse of the past and present day. Each background track feels meticulously chosen for both the mood of the scene in the documentary and the moment in history it’s depicting.
Naturally, we wanted to pick our favorite of those moments, but there are simply too many for one person to wrap their head around. So we enlisted our staff, and asked all who live and breathe Bulls at NBC Sports Chicago: What has been your favorite music moment from “The Last Dance” so far?
Sit back, strap the playlist in, and enjoy.
Big Dave: The music in “The Last Dance” has been nothing short of spectacular. From using New York artists in Episode 5 (Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Special Ed) as the backdrop for talking about Mike playing in Madison Square Garden, to using Outkast’s brilliant "Rosa Parks" to set the scene for the Bulls playing in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, seemingly every track has been well-synced and stellar.
But my favorite moment came in Episode 1 watching rookie Michael Jordan begin his run of dominance with "I Ain't No Joke" by Eric B. & Rakim in the background. Rakim is a GOAT. Go to Google and type in "God MC" and Rakim is the first thing that pops up. That lets you know how special he is. I jumped out of my seat, danced the entire time and rapped every lyric. It fit perfectly. Mike was not coming into the league to mess around. He was serious. No joke.
Dan Santaromita: The music is killer in “The Last Dance,” but one moment really stands out for me. It’s in Episode 4, when Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now” plays over a celebration montage after the Bulls swept the Detroit Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals.
The documentary builds it up. You see the pain the Bulls felt from losing to the bullies on the Pistons for years. It’s clear how much they grew to hate that team. Jordan still gets ticked off thinking about some Isiah Thomas moments. Horace Grant calls them “straight up b**ches.” Even mild-mannered Bill Cartwright gets a jab in. Then, you feel the joy and release of the Bulls beating them, badly, in 1991. The music perfectly embodies the feeling.
When the montage kicks in with the music, the message isn’t subtle. The Bulls are celebrating on the bus. They’re celebrating on the plane, with even Jerry Krause dancing. They’re celebrating after they land in Chicago. Then the title lyrics hit hard right as it goes to commercial break.
The message is clear: Screw you Pistons, how ya like us now?
Matt Peck: I won't dare posture and pretend to be some expert in '90s hip-hop. I'll leave the true words of wisdom to my guy Big Dave.
But one music choice I did absolutely love in “The Last Dance” was playing "The Choice Is Yours" by Black Sheep during the montage of the Bulls’ dominant regular season in '91-92. I've always loved that song, and it fit so well. As you watch MJ and Scottie take turns dunking on the entire league, you're hearing "You can get with this, or you can get with that!" It's such a hilarious "pick your poison" interpretation of that song's lyrics. Like, you wanna be dunked on by MJ, or by Scottie? Because one of those things is definitely happening. A great song to go along with a highlight reel depicting what some (myself included) believe was the most talented team of the entire Bulls dynasty, with Scottie emerging as a nearly-as-lethal weapon to complement MJ. Brilliant work by the music director.
Tim Goldrick: With the ’98 All-Star Game — Jordan’s last as a Bull and Kobe’s first as a Laker — in New York City as the backdrop, Episode 5 opened with Nas and Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “If I Ruled the World.”
Picking the intro track for the MJ-Kobe brotherhood episode is certainly not an easy job, but the producers nailed it here. “If I Ruled The World” is a natural fit in the above context given where Nas and Hill grew up, alone. Then, factor in that Jordan and Kobe combined to rule the basketball world for decades, and it feels incredibly appropriate. Then, listen to Hill’s poignant, “We’ll walk right up to the sun, hand in hand” bridge, and it’s pure poetry. Just two minutes into Episode 5, and the chills were off the charts.
Tori Rubinstein: I figured we’d get a killer highlight package at some point in the series, and Episode 3 delivered in funky-fresh fashion.
Doug Collins set the scene in 1988 at the start of Michael Jordan’s prime. After declaring Mike “the best player” in the league, the documentary cut to 100 seconds of jaw-dropping excellence set to “Partyman” by Prince. The 1989 pop-funk melody pairs perfectly with the energy of a young, high-flying Jordan. The reel featured one-handed slams, head-scratching layups and swift defensive plays that were fully on beat with the song. It was honestly hard to sit still. The end of the montage signaled a new era of basketball in Chicago, and a new face of the NBA. “All hail the new king in town,” indeed.
Fun fact: The song is from the original soundtrack of the 1989 “Batman” film in a scene in which the Joker jubilantly defaces the Gotham City Art Museum. Kind of like how Jordan defaced the NBA in 1988…
Leila Rahimi: I was in high school the year of "The Last Dance," so its soundtrack takes me back to a simpler time, when music was a huge part of my social life. Watching MJ dominate along with songs like "I'm Bad" by LL Cool J in Episode 1 put me back in the mood where, as long as the music was right, I was unstoppable.
In reality, only Jordan was. But the theater of the mind is a powerful thing, and nothing takes me back like music. I was very young when Michael Keaton's "Batman" came out, younger than 10, but absolutely loved "Partyman" by Prince. Jack Nicholson as the Joker wrecked shop in that scene, and so did MJ in that montage in Episode 3. This documentary is so good at evoking incredibly accurate moods surrounding Michael Jordan's dominance at that time, a time where I wish I could have appreciated his greatness with the knowledge and proximity I have now.
Tony Gill: My favorite music moment of “The Last Dance” so far has to be the Naughty by Nature "Hip Hop Hooray" scene. In it, the documentary depicts MJ and the Bulls absolutely dominating teams on their way to their third title in 1993, and the song perfectly meshes with the attitude of the team at the time — sure, there were off-court issues (primarily, “The Jordan Rules” coming out and “exposing” MJ as a not-great teammate), but once the ball was rolled out, none of that mattered. The result was the same.
And, not for nothing, “Hip Hop Hooray” was my favorite song in the soundtrack of NBA Live 2000, the very first video game I ever had. Memories.
Rob Schaefer: I’m going to zag from the crowd on this one, because I had the benefit of watching these answers roll in as I procrastinated my own. For me, the scene that carried the highest personal expectation in the documentary so far was Dennis Rodman’s Las Vegas vacation. I mean, seriously: Forty-eight hours of Rodman in Vegas? I don’t care if this documentary isn’t meeting your journalistic standards. That’s great television.
The choice of “Still Not A Playa” to soundtrack The Worm’s bender is a huge part of that montage sticking the landing. That song is just bouncy, man. But in spite of its vibrant melody, there’s a fair amount of vulgarity — and perhaps even melancholy — under the surface. A perfect metaphor for Rodman, and the perfect tune to groove to as he and Carmen Electra jostle nefariously about Sin City. It’s been my alarm clock ringtone ever since. Shoutout Big Pun.
Honorable mention: Cream's "I Feel Free" behind the breakdown of Phil Jackson's hippie days (a moment I was reminded of by our Vinnie Duber). Perfectly whimsical for the most delightfully jarring sequence of the documentary so far.
Jason Goff: For me, it’s the LL Cool J "I'm Bad" in the background of the highlights from Jordan’s 63-point game against the Celtics in 1986. LL was the first rapper that I designated my favorite. I bought “Bigger and Deffer” with my own money in 1987 on vinyl. That moment in the documentary made me seven years old again. Thankful for that.
Michael Walton: "I Ain't No Joke" was the first track on Eric B. & Rakim's 1987 debut album "Paid in Full," which was a landmark moment in the Golden Era of hip hop. It’s been referred to by many critics as perhaps the greatest hip hop album of all-time.
That makes it the perfect track to complement Michael Jordan's awesome ascent to greatness in the '80s in Episode 1 of “The Last Dance.” Rakim was nicknamed the "God MC" for his great flow on the mic. With Larry Bird once referring to MJ as "God disguised as Michael Jordan," it’s hard to imagine a more perfect moment of harmony than Air Jordan's incredible artistry being blended with Eric B. & Rakim's.
Joe Collins: My favorite track from the series is, “Can I Kick It” by A Tribe Called Quest, which played during the episode chronicling Michael Jordan’s fondness of Madison Square Garden. The music is perfect because A Tribe Called Quest hails from New York (Queens, specifically), and the song that it samples, Lou Reed’s 1972 hit “Walk on the Wild Side,” has a strong connection to the Big Apple as well (Reed hails from New York City). Everything about this clip in “The Last Dance” worked.
Kevin Cross: The music in “The Last Dance” has taken this documentary to another level, entirely. The montages don’t feel like filler, either. They absolutely enhance the experience.
Obviously, hearing “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. and Rakim, or “How Ya Like Me Now” by Kool Moe Dee are highlights. Not just because of the songs, but the way they made a statement about MJ’s mentality in those moments, and the way they were expertly edited.
But with all that said, the most memorable sequence for me was “Partyman” by Prince, from the Batman soundtrack.
First of all, I love that song. But its usage in the documentary gave me goosebumps, because it was so unexpected, and at the same time so perfect. You love to see producers take chances and combine elements that you wouldn’t normally see. That mashup worked big time. Hats off to them.
Kevin Anderson: We hear Outkast's “Rosa Parks” during a segment when the Bulls are playing their final game of the season in Atlanta. The bit highlights the crowd reaction to MJ, and it's fitting because no group captures the essence of Georgia's state capitol more than Outkast. Andre 3000 and Big Boi helped elevate southern hip hop to the mainstream and “The Last Dance” producers picked the perfect spot to include them — it's no coincidence that we see the Bulls leave the Georgia Dome on the team bus as the chorus plays.
Alex Shapiro: I'm going all the way back to the first episode for "I Ain't No Joke" by Eric B. and Rakim. To start, the song just slaps. When the saxophone samples kick in, it practically transports you back to the late ‘80s when Michael Jordan started coming into his own.
I believe this was also the song for the very first MJ highlight package in the show, and the editors did an incredible job cutting his dunks to the song. At that point, the excitement for the show had built up so much that it was impossible not to smile while enjoying the first batch of Jordan highlights.
Ezra McCann: I think the best use of music to help capture a moment in “The Last Dance” so far was "I'm Bad" by LL Cool J as the backdrop for Michael Jordan’s 63-point game in Boston in the 1986 playoffs. That beat is as hardcore as it gets, and in the game itself Jordan had a coming out party for the ages to let the world know he was the baddest man on the planet, ready to take on all challengers. “I’m Bad” helped bring in the Golden Era of hip hop, and it matched the theme of Jordan’s ascent perfectly. I damn near jumped out of my seat watching that scene.
John Sabine: I am not the right person to tell you what the best music moment of “The Last Dance” is. I have an a cappella playlist on Spotify I MADE. My tastes are garbage.
But one song that surprised me in a really joyful way was the song they played in Episode 6 when the Bulls were facing the Knicks in the '93 Eastern Conference finals. The Bulls started down 2-0 in that series, but then, all of a sudden, like a sexy yet fierce war cry: "Ayyeee… Ayyyeeeee… Ayeee…” The song: “Connected.” The band: Stereo MC's. Did you know the name of that band was Stereo MC's? I didn't. Did you know they were BRITISH? I figured they were something European, maybe German? It was the perfect song to tell the story of a struggling Bulls' team down 2-0. Just look at the first verse:
Somethin' ain't right
Yeah the Bulls are down 2-0 in the playoffs that AIN’T RIGHT
Gonna get myself, I'm gonna get myself
Gonna get myself connected
Jordan just had to come home and focus
I ain't gonna go blind
He wasn't going to go blind (though that probably wasn't in the cards, anyway)
For the light which is reflected
OK, to be honest, I don't know what this one means. I’m the a cappella playlist guy, remember?
I see through you, I see through you
I see through you, I see through you
Stark, Patrick, Oak, Mason, Xavier — Jordan sees through you.
Ya dirty (expletive), ya make me sick
OK, this one is pretty on the nose. Those Knicks teams were physical.
And we haven't even gotten to the chorus! Now go listen to that song. It's really good, and I will now think of the '93 Bulls come back every time I hear it in a Gadzooks at the mall.