By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
So, I’m not going to pretend that I was able to see the first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” the 10-episode documentary on the great Michael Jordan—the tall, young basketball player who came from North Carolina in 1984 and made the Bulls one of the most legendary teams in the NBA franchise.
Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls from 1984 to 1993. He retired briefly and played baseball and returned to the Bulls from 1995 to 1998. His last dance, so to speak, as an active basketball player was with the Washington Wizards from 2001-2003.
He helped lead the Bulls to six championships—in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998, the latter which was Jordan’s last year with the Bulls.
While I didn’t see the documentary yet, I did read an extensive article written for ESPN Sports by Ramona Shelburne titled “An all-access Michael Jordan documentary? How ‘The Last Dance’ was made possible.” This article presented the nexus of the doc, which covers Jordan joining the Bulls in 1984 and particularly the Bulls final championship season in 1997-98, and how NBA Entertainment was able to tape this footage—which had been sitting idle for nearly 20 years.
In 2016, Jordan finally gave the green light for this project to proceed to fruition. It was time, as the producers felt that long form offerings were becoming popular, after the successes of the O.J. Simpson and “Making of a Murderer” documentaries.
The final thought that I gleaned from this article was that reportedly Jordan felt that anything that pointed to his career in a way that was definitive or final might indicate that he was getting old.
The statue at the United Center is one example. “Michael does not want to be a statue,” [Jason] Hehir said. “He doesn’t want to be looked at as something in the past.” Hehir is a screenwriter and director of the project.
Doing a documentary, especially one purporting to be a definitive look at him, felt like something an old man would do at the end of his life.
When Hehir interviewed Jordan’s daughter Jasmine, she told him that when she was about to give birth, she asked her father what he wanted to be called? Grandpa? Pops? Grandpops? Jordan thought about it for a moment, then said, Have him call me Michael.
This desire to control time, or at least try to bend it to his will, is quintessentially Jordan. The man built his persona on outworking and outwilling people. Those were his terms as a player and a teammate. Anyone who couldn’t meet them didn’t belong on his team.
In many ways, those are still his terms. He couldn’t control time. But he could control when he allowed someone to tell his story.
So this isn’t the definitive documentary about one of the greatest players of all time, Michael Jordan. It’s a documentary about one of the greatest teams of all time, the 1997-98 Bulls, with Jordan as a leading character.
In my opinion, Jordan isn’t old, he’s only 57 and has made tremendous professional and personal strides. And if he’s ever feeling old, he has so much money—his reported worth is estimated at more than $2 billion—that he can buy anything to cheer him up.
This may be the quintessential documentary about a man who made so many contributions to a league that was officially created in 1949. However, millions of youth who stand in line to buy whatever new Jordan gym shoe is out don’t know the full story of his greatness. Hopefully this documentary, which will show the good and bad about Jordan and the Bulls, doesn’t disappoint and gives the “youngins” something to look forward to on Sunday nights. Youth shouldn’t just wear Air Jordans, they should see what all the fuss about Jordan is about.
Just why did Jordan finally agree after years of other people asking for a sign off on the documentary? Shelburne writes that Jordan gave his consent in 2016 on the day of the celebratory parade for the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, who had just won the NBA Finals. There was so much hoopla surrounding James and folks saying he was the greatest—Jordan figured it was time to set the record straight.
“And he was ready to tell it, right after another player (James) and another team (the Warriors) got dangerously close to challenging those legacies.”
The next two episodes of “The Last Dance” will air on sports cable station ESPN on Sunday, April 26, at 9:00 EST, 8:00 p.m. Chicago time.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, firstname.lastname@example.org.