Even legends aren’t perfect.
Basketball has never been as big in Malaysia or Southeast Asia (with the probable exception of the Philippines) compared to the US or other regions. People here are all about football, football, and football, as well as perhaps a bit of badminton. At least, that’s what I think as someone who’s not exactly into professional sports.
Despite all that, I was still a 90s/00s kid, so I knew about the basketball legend and superstar that is Michael Jordan. He was the equivalent of football’s David Beckham, recognisable even by anyone who doesn’t follow a lick of sports.
The point is, I went into The Last Dance, a sports documentary Netflix/ESPN co-production miniseries about Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997/1998, knowing almost nothing else about the legendary sportsman other than what I learnt watching 1996’s Space Jam movie.
What makes The Last Dance unique is that it features never-before-seen footage captured by a crew that had an all-access pass to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during the 1997/1998 National Basketball Association (NBA) season. It stayed hidden for almost two decades, before being compiled by director Jason Hehir into a docu-series.
The appeal of every sports documentary or movie is the drama and inspirations behind the sport, as well as the thrill of the ups and downs experienced by these larger-than-life athletes. They’re a look into the human spirit and psyche, to break the limit of what any human being can accomplish.
It’s decidedly exciting and adrenaline-pumping content, even for non-sports fans like me. The best of these sports documentaries or movies can still do all that and be entertaining, even if you know nothing about the sport that’s at the heart of the story.
The question now is whether The Last Dance is capable of that? Yes and no, I’d say, judging from the four out of ten episodes that I’ve been provided by Netflix.
The Last Dance likely won’t convert new basketball fans, but it still manages to be occasionally and provide an introspective into the world of pro basketball in the late 90s.
Even A Legend Needs A Team
While The Last Dance mostly focuses on Michael Jordan himself, it is actually meant to provide insight on other fellow teammates from the 1997/1998 Chicago Bulls and even several of the coaches/managers. These include the likes of general manager Jerry Krause, coach Phil Jackson, as well as players Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
In The Last Dance, we get to see the uneasy relationship between general manager Jerry Krause with some of the players, especially when some of the stuff he says or does offends the very athletes that he’s supposed to be managing.
We learn what motivated Scottie Pippen’s unsatisfaction with his below-market salary, despite being one of the best basketball players at the time and second only to Michael Jordan.
There’s also Dennis Rodman, the resident bad boy who invites conflict and drama just from being eccentric and flaunting his uncaring attitude.
To be frank, I didn’t even know any of these people prior to watching The Last Dance, but thanks to this docu-series, now I do. I’m not saying that a form of entertainment has to always be educating in nature, but documentaries often are, just like this one.
I felt really invested when the series explored the motivations and origins of each player, like Michael Jordan’s competitive childhood to get approval from his own dad, or Dennis Rodman’s struggle with the public perception’s of his eccentricity. These athletes were the stars and right so, with their own unique stories and personalities.
I also loved learning the fact that the Chicago Bull’s rival team, the Detroit Pistons, had a specific strategy as a countermeasure against Michael Jordan.
It was even named the Jordan Rule after the very player it was made to overcome.
That alone tells me how badass and legendary Michael Jordan was, and still is.
What I don’t love is all the stuff with the general managers and coaches, which dragged on and on. It was more akin to reports you could read in newspapers, and I didn’t care enough about these people (who aren’t the basketball players or athletes) to keep my attention on their stories. These sections were boring and uninteresting, unless you were already a basketball fan to begin with.
I truly have no idea if there’s enough material to sustain and justify ten episodes of The Last Dance, but the signs are there that the docu-series is padding itself for additional content. Two episodes of The Last Dance will drop every Monday starting from 20 April 2020 on Netflix, but I don’t see much reason to personally continue watching.
The Last Dance is not the most compelling documentary, nor is it the most entertaining in any way (visually or in terms of content), but true basketball fans will probably be able to appreciate it more than I do.
I’ll leave you with the most memorable quote from the documentary, from Boston Celtic player Larry Bird (against whom Michael Jordan achieved his historic and record-breaking 63 points in a playoff match). Bird described Jordan as:
“It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan”.
Final Score: 50/100