Come this past Monday in the United Kingdom, ESPN’s docuseries The Last Dance came to its thrilling conclusion.
The ten-part documentary series focusing on the life and career of Michael Jeffrey Jordan – the greatest basketball player of all time – has been a commercial and critical hit. Extensively researched, The Last Dance features interviews and insights from a litany of basketball and pop culture icons, ranging from Barack Obama to Kobe Bryant to Carmen Electra. It is fitting, that for a man so obsessed with winning and everything winning entails: sacrifice, giving maximum effort and honing your craft tirelessly, The Last Dance may well be not only the greatest basketball documentary of all time but the greatest sports documentary of all time.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the top five moments to emerge from The Last Dance.
5. The human element
In a series covering such a grand topic and featuring a pantheon of interviews, The Last Dance achieved success in both illustrating the macro and micro of Michael Jordan‘s life. With this in mind, the human element of The Last Dance stole the show at points. Whether it was the eccentric-looking John Michael Wozniak besting Jordan in a game of ‘quarters’ before celebrating with the patented shrug, or Jordan chopping it up with his teammates before or after games, his closeness with his father, Steve Kerr‘s emotional story of his father or the remembrance of Gus Lett, Jordan’s chief security officer and second father figure.
Also it views Jordan’s career as it ebbs and flows with the passage of time in the NBA. The images of Jordan as a young rookie going against Magic, Dr. J and Bird, to seeing Jordan as the veteran, welcoming in Kobe, Duncan and Shaq. If nothing else, The Last Dance proved to be a unique study into the human condition, as well as chronicling the passage of time – something that affects us all.
What else is there to say about Dennis Rodman? A university walk-on, NBA rookie at age 25, five-time NBA Champion, WWE Wrestler, actor, Las Vegas aficionado, best-friend of Kim Jong Un and Hall-of-Famer, Dennis Rodman has lived a life worth of several lifetimes and worthy of a 10-part documentary series of his own.
The man known as ‘The Worm’, stole the show in episodes III and IV, whether it was by describing his rebounding technique, recounting the toughness in which he played the game or recollecting the various escapades he enjoyed off the court. Dennis Rodman is certainly one of a kind and it was a pleasure seeing the man’s unique character shine in the early episodes of The Last Dance.
3. ‘That Little Laker Boy’
‘That little Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one-on-one… He don’t let the game come to him. He just go out there and take it.’
For a docu-series full of emotional and poignant moments, none hit home quite as powerfully as seeing a young 19-year-old Kobe Bryant make his first All-Star game appearance during Jordan’s final season as a Bull. Looking back on the footage and knowing how Bryant and Jordan’s relationship would evolve, knowing just how close the two would become, seeing the footage of the two interacting is incredibly emotional.
In particular, the scene of Jordan in the locker room pre-tip-off, praising the boldness and bravery of ‘that little Laker boy’, was both as fascinating as it was touching. As Jordan warns his Eastern teammates of the Laker guard, one can’t help but feel the intense admiration Jordan had for the young Bryant. And it makes sense knowing that Jordan would go on to take Bryant under his wing. It is heavily publicised that Jordan had a huge influence on the development of Bryant as a player and as a competitor.
Jordan and Bryant interacting at the All-Star game, Jordan admiring the youngsters tenacity and fierceness and the two sharing a moment together at the end of the game all made for incredibly emotional viewing. All the more so when you realise that Jordan would be once again praising his proverbial younger brother at Bryant’s funeral in 2020.
"That little Laker boy's gonna take everybody one-on-one."
— ESPN (@espn) May 4, 2020
2. Jordan’s breakdown following his 4th ring
One of the more ghastly traits of celebrity culture is the idolisation of men. We put these people so high on a pedestal that we create incredibly high expectations for them to meet, and if they fall short of the challenge, which they always inevitably do because we are all human, the frenzied masses cannot wait to rip the person to shreds.
As we saw in episodes VII and VIII of The Last Dance, not even Michael Jordan could escape the harsh judgement of the masses and the wrath that it brings. The very real and visceral moment we witnessed at the end of episode VIII – Jordan alone, weeping into a basketball following the winning of his 4th NBA title, the first one without his father – was a stark reminder that everyone is human. Even his Airness.
That incredibly powerful scene was the culmination of the events that were covered in episode VII; the mounting media pressure Jordan faced, the death of his father, Jordan’s sojourn to the Minor Leagues of baseball and finally, the return of MJ to the NBA. Set to the backdrop of Jose Gonzalez’s rendition of Teardrop, the image of Jordan crying alone, this time older and more embittered than he was in 1991, is as haunting as it is emotional.
1. Cost of winning
Through this 10-part docu-series, this study and insight to Michael Jordan, the core theme, the core belief system in which Jordan has based his life upon – winning – permeates throughout the series and takes centre stage at the end of Episode VII. Jordan laments on his attitude towards winning during his playing days and the cost that it came with.
‘When people see this, they’re going to be like, Well he wasn’t a nice guy, he might’ve been a tyrant,’ Jordan hypothesised, ‘But that’s you, because you never won anything. I wanted to win, but I wanted them to be a part of it as well.’ As the accompanying orchestral soundtrack swells to a montage of not only Jordan succeeding but his teammates too. Jordan continues, ‘Look, I don’t have to do this, I’m doing it because this is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That’s my mentality.’ The music gives ground to Jordan, who is becoming increasingly emotional, on the verge of tears, ‘If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way’ Jordan gets up off his seat as and calls to an end both the interview and the episode ‘break’.
This segment, which has gone viral a dozen times over, perfectly encapsulates the character of Michael Jordan, that he was willing to do anything it took to win – and for his teammates to win. And for a docu-series, as grand in scale as it was quality, The Last Dance, both inspired and informed the audience by conveying just who Michael Jordan is – a winner.