Tuesday, August 04, 2020

The Last Dance

Why bury the lead? THE LAST DANCE is the best sports documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s available on Netflix, produced by ESPN. Glad to see it's nominated for a number of Emmys

Due to the Trumpvirus and lack of live events, ESPN moved up its premier to April. I just got around to it, frankly because ten hours seemed a little daunting.

It’s essentially a profile on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990’s. I like Mike but ten hours? Then I thought: sitting through one baseball game with no crowds or excitement feels like ten hours, why not give THE LAST DANCE a try?

So glad I did. I binge-watched the whole thing in two days and was sorry when it ended.

I have not read a single review. I know some people had issues with it. I don’t know what those are, nor do I care. I found it compelling throughout and it seemed to portray Michael (I just call him “Michael” because I’m cool) in a balanced light. His greatness is constantly on display, but so is his dark side (and sometimes dick side).

Hey, he’s a complex guy dealing with extraordinary circumstances. With greatness comes expectations and unbelievable pressure. Fame can be a curse. And having an amazing gift doesn’t shield you from heartache. How much of his glory and riches would he gladly trade not to have his father murdered?

The filmmakers chose a great topic filled with colorful characters, weird twists, and real life suspense. Plus, they were given amazing access to behind-the-scenes revealing moments. The documentary gives us plenty of time to really see who Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman (a fucking loon who happened to possess athletic skills), Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr and numerous other personalities (both teammates and opponents).

They managed to get just about everybody to be a talking head. Two former presidents (Obama & Clinton) and two former Gods (Magic & Bird). I’m only sorry it wasn’t made for CNN because then they probably would have used me.

Finally, (and maybe this is a secondary lead I am burying), you don’t have to love the NBA or basketball to enjoy this documentary. It’s a sweeping novel and the basketball sequences are filled with suspense and artistry. And it's not made up.  It's all true!  As otherworldly as you think Michael Jordan is, when you watch the span of his entire career it just takes your breath away.

And you get to see some behind-the-scenes moments of SPACE JAM.

THE LAST DANCE – check it out. Yes, it’s ten hours, but where you going for the next six months?


Mike Barer said...

I love Jordan and that era of the NBA. The Bulls and Patriots, I have always felt were unique in that unlike teams like the Yankees and the Lakers, their dynasties were built around one star player and one period.
The Bulls have not been really any factor beyond the Jordan years and it remains to be seen how the Patriots do in the post Brady era.

Anonymous said...

Generally preferred spelling is the journalistic term "burying the lede", not the less formal "lead".

Cowboy Surfer said...

The Last Dance was fantastic.

Seeing the clips of Kobe and how much Michael meant to him was so cool.

cd1515 said...

My problem with it was Jordan had final say on anything that aired, so a lot of unflattering stuff was completely glossed over. You never get the real story when the main subject is fine also.

tb said...

Would prefer a Magic Johnson documentary. His greatness is starting to get a little lost in all the Jordan worship. Magic rules, Jordan drools

richfigel said...

As much as I admired Jordan's skills, I didn't idolize him and didn't think I'd really care about watching a 10-hour series on His Highness... I was wrong. As Ken says, it shows the man's strengths and human flaws. Even my wife, who is a casual basketball fan, found herself drawn into it. It shows how one person can make everyone around him work harder and perform better when they have a common goal. Say what you will about Jordan, but man, if I was building a team from the ground up I'd start with someone like him. I think he matured and mellowed with age too, yet you can still see the competitor in him. For better or worse, great players hate to lose.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Not a basketball fan but I'll check it out because you recommended it. Does it devote much space to Michael's unfortunate baseball career?

Liggie said...

Funny, I studied journalism for a number of years in college, and our professors used "lead" instead of "lede". I never heard of "lede" until I read a Walter Cronkite biography a few years ago.

Pete Thompson said...

My true joy was watching this with my 24-year-old stepson, who knew who MJ was, but had NO idea of the drama.

He absolutely LOVED the series, as did I. Our favorite part was seeing the United Center security guy playing "pitch" with Michael before a game and actually winning, which you know had to drive Jordan nuts.

We watched it as it ran live each week on ESPN and always left wanting MORE.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review. wasn't sure I wanted to watch but now will definitely check it out.

Chicagoan and Bulls Fan said...

I grew up during that era and obviously loved it, but of course there's so much else I wish they covered. And here's a take I'm sure others will think is nuts: most of the behind the scenes footage from that final championship year...wasn't all that interesting! For years we'd been hearing about this vault of footage ESPN had that Jordan wouldn't release, and this is the best they had? If the doc had all that stuff removed I'd still love it--the interviews and game highlights do most of the storytelling. Anyway, there's no doubt Jordan is a fascinating figure.

sanford said...

I don't know of any team that allowed this much access. That is why I can't see a 9 part series on Brady being compelling. They may have had characters on the team, but you never heard much about them. If there was any infighting going on we didn't know about it. Everyone knew about the Bulls and a lot of what was going on behind the scenes. Out side of Magic and possibly Lebron it is hard to think of too many athletes as compelling as Jordan. Perhaps McEnroe, Martina. Glen Greenwood has been trying to get a doc made, but due to Martina's remarks about trans athletes no one wants to do it. As compelling as Ruth was could you make a 10 part series about him? It is too bad we can't go back in time. I think it might be interesting.

benson said...

Glad you enjoyed The Last Dance.

I'm a native Chicagoan, so it didn't really break much new ground, but give credit to MJ for not glossing over that at times he was a dick. Being the best in sports is not for the faint of heart.

My only reservation about it, was Jerry Krause, the GM, was portrayed as the villian. First of all, he's dead and can't defend himself. (one of the local writers was working with Krause on a biography, and the family allowed him the share some of that.) But the local reporters said some of the whole Phil Jackson not being allowed to come back, etc, was revisionist history. There's much more to the story.)

Robert Brauer said...

After watching the series when it aired back in the spring, I came to the conclusion that MJ is the sports equivalent of Frank Sinatra. You enjoy what he does, he's almost unquestionably the best at it ... but you get the impression he's the kind of guy you wouldn't want to spend too much time around.

Troy McClure said...

Friday question, Ken. You're the biggest Natalie Wood fan in the world, so it begs the question have you ever considered writing a biopic screenplay about her?

blinky said...

Were there any outtakes with Bugs Bunny? I be is a prick in real life.

Mike Bloodworth said...

ABC ran "The Last Dance" for free after its initial run on ESPN. However, I didn't watch it.
I concede that Michael Jordan is probably the best INDIVIDUAL player in NBA history. Yes, even better than Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. Yet, I'm still not a fan. In the 80's basketball was much more of a team game. Magic, Larry, Isaiah, etc. got everyone involved. Anything could happen at any time. But from Michael onward it became the, "Give me the ball, get out of the way and let me do my thing" style of selfish play we still see today. That's the primary reason I wasn't a Kobe fan either.
If ABC runs "Dance" again, and I'm pretty sure they will I may watch it just to say I did.

By the way, speaking of "Space Jam" before I joined SAG I was an extra on that movie. We shot at the L.A. Sports Arena. It might have been second unit stuff. Mostly crowd scenes. And no, we never saw M.J.
One of the interesting things was that they had cardboard cutouts of fans randomly placed around the arena. (Kind of like today, huh?) Then real people would fill in around them to make the crowd seem larger than it really was.


Anonymous said...

You could make a 20 part series about Babe Ruth. The greatest baseball player ever, probably the greatest at his sport, and one of the two or three greatest sports personalities ever. His story has everything.
Michael Jordan wasn't too gracious about Jerry Krause. Jerry Krause was sort of a nerdy guy who didn't handle the press or athletes well. He did put together the team, though. But two points - first when Michael Jordan tried to do Jerry Krause's job with the Wizards, he was about as good as Jerry Krause would have been playing basketball. Second, the guy who should be defending Jerry Krause in the documentary is Phil Jackson. Jerry Krause gave him his chance - he doesn't get it if not for Jerry Krause. He owes Krause much more than Jordan does. Total ingrate.

Troy McClure said...

Reading the tributes to legendary movie executive Tom Pollock, it reinforces what a depressing state the film industry is in now. Spike Lee praised him for standing behind Do The Right Thing and releasing it on the same day as Batman in 1989. Martin Scorsese also praised him for sticking by The Last Temptation of Christ amid all the furore and giving him creative freedom. A studio executive who actually championed and defended challenging and ambitious films. What a different world.

Today's executives decide how many Transformers sequels to make and which comic books to adapt.

Charles Bryan said...

There's also a doc on Rodman (not ten hours) which is pretty much a big barrel of wow. Very compelling, and, yeah, he's a loon, but you see a very human picture of a loon.

Jahn Ghalt said...

MJ put out a memoir perhaps 10-15 years ago. Like most, this was a pretty standard effort - nothing to write home about.

I recall a few things.

1) The summer that he got a trainer and hit the weight room - not so common circa 1990.
2) He (and agent) offered a two-year deal once his long-term contract expired (which, in retrospect, was a helluva deal for the Bulls). It was something like 27-millon per.

Bulls countered with a one-year deal - they settled at 30M, followed the next year at 33M.

I agree this was a fine documentary, though I did not binge it as it stacked up on the DVR. I can only recall a six-parter that was more compelling - about OJ, the murders, the trial, and the troubles that led up to it. Never having been immersed in LA media, most of that was new to me.

JS said...

Not a big basketball fan, I think they switched so much on The Last Dance, I didn't know what season I was watching. It was confusing to me.

I did see Michael Jordon Play. I worked at a big accounting firm, my boss gave me 2 tickets and my best friend and I saw them play in D.C.

Typical basketball game, nothing happened until the last 2 minutes. We were bored to death. It was a huge disappointment.

Just my experience.

ventucky said...

Just finished watching. It was much better than I expected. I saw nothing that put MJ in a particularly bad light. His reported dick moves were generally described as motivators. It made sense to me, considering he had no normal existence, and the world counted on him to succeed. I liked him much more than before. He was never anyone who particularly interested me. 2 things that became clear to me. Horace Grant looked like the nicest guy in the NBA, and someone I would love to hang out with. And Reggie Miller, if he could ever nail the voice and syntax, could supplement his retirement as an Obama impersonator.