“The Last Dance” has taken its final bow. But we’re not ready to let go yet.
As a means to dissect and reminisce on the best moments from the 10-part docuseries, here are assorted superlatives from ESPN’s epic:
Best Supporting Actor
The Nominees: John Michael Wozniak; Horace Grant; Jason Hehir’s iPad; Dennis Rodman
The Winner: Jason Hehir’s iPad
You can’t go wrong here. Horace Grant was a money soundbite throughout. From multiple midseason excursions (one to Vegas, one — during the Finals — to the NWO) to cheeky one-liners (“You want to come play for the Bulls, Dennis? I don’t care, whatever. What’s up”), Dennis Rodman was good for some memorable moments. John Michael Wozniak’s infectious, unafraid trolling of Jordan captivated the world:
Like for MJ— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) May 4, 2020
RT for the security guard pic.twitter.com/RNevHK2A2M
But Jordan’s iPad reactions were perhaps the most riveting thread throughout the sprawling docuseries (they’ll be a common thread through these superlatives, as well). At once, they offered a glance into the insatiable competitive fire that still burns within Jordan, cut the middle-man out of him addressing decades-old — yet still compelling — grievances and produced a succession line of memes that will live on Twitter forevermore.
And truly, what a masterstroke in interviewing and trust-building from Hehir and co. Through this quirk, which could have easily come off as a gimmick, they elicited pure Jordan indignation, reflection and hubris at various points. Whether a true documentary or no, drawing that spectrum of emotion out of the oft-reclusive Jordan is a huge part of what made this project so riveting from start to finish.
Best iPad Reveal
The Nominees: Isiah Thomas on Pistons’ 1991 walk-off, Episode 5; Jerry Reinsdorf on the splintering of the dynasty, Episode 10; Gary Payton on defending Jordan, Episode 8; Deloris Jordan reading a letter from UNC days, Episode 2
The Winner: Isiah Thomas on Pistons’ 1991 walk-off
Might as well piggyback off this trope straightaway, eh? That aforementioned spectrum of emotion from Jordan is perfectly on display in these four nominees. To Reinsdorf dishing on the dynasty’s end, Jordan bristles, deflecting blame from the players and saying he believes he could have rallied the troops for a successful run at title No. 7. To Gary Payton claiming to have cracked the code of defending Jordan (albeit too late) in the 1995-96 Finals, Jordan cackles. To his mother Deloris reading a letter written by Michael asking for money during his days at UNC, Jordan’s eyes twinkled in reminiscence.
But the winner here has to be his pitch-perfect dismissal of the Pistons’ 1991 walk-off — if only for the media firestorm it helped catalyze. From start to finish, Jordan is raw in his reaction. “Well, I know it’s all bulls**t,” he says as the screen is handed to him. “You can show me whatever you want, there’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an a**hole.”
Upon viewing, his range of facial expressions were delightfully revealing and memeable.
Give credit to Isiah Thomas for doing the Last Dance interview even though he knew Jordan had homecourt advantage. We got the most meme-able moment of the documentary thanks to Isiah. pic.twitter.com/foOWxP5Prj— J.A. Adande (@jadande) April 28, 2020
It doesn’t get more Jordan than that.
The Nominees: “Straight up b**ches” — Horace Grant, Episode 4; “I’m not going to f**k my summer up” — Scottie Pippen, Episode 1; Depends how bad the f**king headache is,” Michael Jordan, Episode 2; “Break” monologue, Michael Jordan, Episode 7
The Winner: “Straight up b**tches” — Horace Grant, Episode 4
Iconic soundbites abound in this docuseries, so paring this category down to four nominees was extremely difficult. At the end of the day, though, for shock factor and the resonance the quote itself still holds within the city of Chicago, Grant gets the nod.
Most Stunning Revelation
The Nominees: Scottie Pippen “wouldn’t change” the 1.8 second game; The “Food Poisoning Game”; Jordan wanted shot at title No. 7; Phil Jackson’s topsy turvy backstory
The Winner: Scottie Pippen “wouldn’t change” the 1.8 second game
Of course, Jordan’s legendary competitiveness wouldn’t allow him to be satisfied with six rings, even 20 years later. The story of the “Flu Game” being a result of bad pizza — though never before amplified to this level — had been previously reported. Jackson’s hippie youth, tumultuous days coaching in Puerto Rico and unconventional coaching practices are personal favorites, yet not enduring enough to win the category.
But Pippen conceding that while he “wish(es) [the 1.8 second game] never happened,” he still “probably wouldn’t change it” if given the chance was the most stunning revelation of the doc. Pippen’s decision to ride the pine for the final ticks of a potential series-swinging Game 3 of the ‘94 Eastern Conference semis of the Knicks because Phil Jackson didn’t draw up the game-winning play for him is perhaps the greatest smudge on Pippen’s NBA legacy.
“He quit on us. We couldn’t believe that happened. It was devastating,” Steve Kerr said in the documentary.
Still, it appears Pippen is at peace with how everything turned out. And that’s fair. Perhaps unfair is that this moment highlights a trend in the documentary to shine light on mostly negative Pippen storylines. But it’s noteworthy all the same.
Most Outrageous Lie
The Nominees: The LaBradford Smith story, Episode 8; “The character those individuals (I was gambling with), I find out later what kind of people I was playing with”, Michael Jordan, Episode 6; Jordan calling the push-off on Bryon Russell “bulls**t,” Episode 10
The Winner: Jordan calling the push-off on Bryon Russell “bulls**t,” Episode 10
No one’s saying it should have been called. And no one’s saying it was egregious. But there is absolutely no doubt Jordan gave Russell the slightest of pats on his backside moments before rising up for the final shot of his Bulls career. It was on the screen (in slow motion!) as he was delivering this line.
Yes, Russell’s momentum was carrying him in that direction regardless, but come on, man. Bob Costas calling it “the equivalent of a maître d showing someone to their table” was phenomenal.
The Nominees: Staring down Burrell; Jamming to music; Exasperated Phil; All of the iPad scenes
The Winner: All of the iPad scenes
The nominees, for your viewing pleasure:
Unwritten - Natasha Bedingfield pic.twitter.com/sPf2c6OQyO— Michael Jordan Jamming Out (@JordanJamming) May 18, 2020
But, again, the iPad reigns. The breadth of use possible from those scenes is simply too far-reaching to be overlooked. In video and image form.
To anyone who watches this and still doesn’t believe MJ’s the 🐐 pic.twitter.com/RJ96njtSbb— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) May 18, 2020
They combined the clip of Lebron saying he’s the GOAT with the Jordan laughing clip. The internet wins LMAOOOO pic.twitter.com/FwMZLSMvZh— Shane (@ShaneSh121) May 11, 2020
The Nominees: Ron Harper, Episode 3; Kobe Bryant, Episode 5; Roy Williams, Episode 2; Jerry Seinfeld, Episode 5
The Winner: Ron Harper, Episode 3
All of these are delightful in their own way. Bryant’s posthumous appearance and tribute via the 1998 All-Star game struck every tonal note perfectly. Roy Williams’ hit rate in Episode 2 (“Michael Jordan was the only player who could turn it on and off, and he never turned it off”) was off the charts. Behind the scenes footage of Jerry Seinfeld and Jordan chopping it up, followed by Seinfeld critiquing drawn-up Bulls plays on their locker-room whiteboard, was whimsical.
It’s unfortunate that Harper, who played a crucial part in the second three-peat, was essentially relegated to “cameo” status in the doc, so it’s worth recognizing him here. Though he was only really spotlighted as “1989 Cleveland Cavalier Ron Harper,” his line on Cavs coach Lenny Wilkins’ defensive strategy for the play Jordan canned the jumper over Ehlo in endures as one of the most memorable of the series: “Yeah, OK, whatever. F**k this bulls**t.” (It also spawned some controversy, which is always fun.)
Best Behind-the-Scenes Moment(s)
The Nominees: Jordan trash-talking Kobe in the Eastern Conference All-Star locker room, Episode 5; “You b**ch, f**k you” — Jordan to Larry Bird, Episode 9; Jordan incessantly hounding Scott Burrell, Episode 7; Quarters with John Michael Wozniak, Episode 6
The Winner: Quarters with John Michael Wozniak, Episode 6
The behind-the-scenes camera footage that made this project so intriguing certainly ramped up as the doc progressed, culminating with an extended segment highlighting the team’s hotel celebration after securing title No. 6 in Utah.
Jordan skewering Bryant to open Episode 5 set the stage for their relationship perfectly. From a jacka**sery perspective, Jordan vs. Burrell lived up to the hype. That Bird dap-up at the end of Episode 9 made a late case, but the Wozniak quarters game’s wonky brilliance — plus the backstory behind his and Jordan’s relationship — endures.
Most Glaring Omission
The Nominees: Hue Hollins missed call; Anything about Ron Harper after 1989; The inside story of the 7-59 2012 Hornets; Jordan’s Wizard years
The Winner: Hue Hollins missed call
The story of the Bulls’ 1993-94 season is not complete without mentioning the foul called on Scottie Pippen for allegedly thwacking a jump-shooting Hubert Davis with 2.1 seconds to go in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semis against the Knicks. Leading 86-84, the Bulls were poised to grab a 3-2 series lead (in a series they eventually dropped in seven), before Pippen was whistled late for dusting Davis’ arm on a 3-point shot.
Davis calmly sank the three ensuing foul shots, and the Knicks prevailed. While the Bulls’ relative success in 1993-94 (thanks largely to Pippen and Toni Kukoc) is chronicled in Episode 7 of “The Last Dance,” as well as the 1.8 second game, this one doesn’t get a mention. It’s nitpicking, and far from egregious, but it’s an omission nonetheless.
Best Michael Jordan Motivation Story
Nominees: Sealing Chicago media vengeance vs. Cavaliers; The LaBradford Smith ruse; The George Karl snub;
Winner: Sealing Chicago media vengeance vs. Cavaliers
Michael Jordan was motivated by a lot of things.
But the freshest and most captivating of the feuds and personal beefs (both real and self-constructed) depicted in “The Last Dance” was his ire towards local Bulls reporters picking against the team in the 1989 Eastern Conference first round series against the Cavaliers.
“Game’s just about to start. And Michael walks over to Lacy (Banks) and points to him and says, ‘We took care of you.’ Then he Looks at Kent (McDill) and says, ‘We took care of you.’ And he looks at me and says, ‘We take care of you today,’” said Sam Smith, then of the Chicago Tribune, in the documentary. Those three picked the Cavs in three, four and five games, respectively.
That marked a true pivot point in Jordan’s career — the first playoff series Jordan ever won, and on a make-or-break, gravity-defying buzzer beater. It’s only fitting there is an epic story behind it.