Wed. May 27th, 2020

‘The Last Dance’ grades: Michael Jordan nostalgia, old …

‘The Last Dance’ grades: Michael Jordan nostalgia, old …

And just like that, it’s over. The Last Dance — the 10-part ESPN/Netflix series chronicling Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls that has largely gotten the collective sports world through the last five weeks — came to an end Sunday night, with the final two episodes hitting the mark as squarely as this series did as a whole. 

So many things about this documentary were great. I could talk about details for hours. But let’s organize this a bit into some overarching themes, shall we? Hand out some marks. Without further ado, here are my final grades for the series. 

Nostalgia: A

This, more than anything, was the pole on which this series leaned, and it never once faltered. For people who grew up on Michael Jordan, like me, or anyone who lived through his run of greatness, this documentary was magical. The dunks, the trash talking, the fade-away jumpers, the rivalries, the Bad Boy Pistons, the Flu Game, The Shot, even the soundtrack … it all felt like closing your eyes and taking in an old, familiar smell, faded memories blooming back to color. 

Soundtrack: A

From “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. & Rakim to “I’m Bad” by LL Cool J, the music in this series, especially early on, was so on point in terms of capturing the vibe of the era and times. Nothing takes us back like music, and not only did the song selections throughout the series contribute to the aforementioned nostalgia, but they took the overall energy of the doc through the roof. 

Some of the hip-hop-scored montages had me dancing, others gave me goose bumps, others made me want to run through a wall. Closing out with a Pearl Jam classic was the 1990s cherry on top. It was all perfect. 

Objectivity: B

The doc did a good job of presenting some of the more controversial topics — Jordan’s gambling, his teammate-bullying tactics, etc. — in an honest way. Jordan was always left with the last word, ultimately framing the situation through his eyes, but at the end of the day this was his series. He held the key to even let the footage out of the vault in the first place. 

But everything wasn’t addressed in full scope. Jerry Krause, for instance, got some backhanded compliments that feigned as fairness, but mostly his legacy got a pretty raw deal. A Hall of Famer like Clyde Drexler was painted as nothing more than a Jordan doormat. Gary Payton was laughed at without addressing that Jordan was, in fact, held to 36 percent shooting in Game 4-6 of the 1996 Finals. They made Jordan’s baseball career out like he was honestly going to make it to the major leagues because he was willing to work hard. That’s not how it works. He wasn’t that good. They glanced over that part. 

But again, this was a Michael Jordan documentary made with his blessing and told through his eyes. It was never going to be a pillar of journalistic objectivity. The mount of fairness this doc had to display to be credible, it did that and then some. 

New Material: B

Look, you have what you have as far as footage, and with the amount of content already devoted to a lot of these stories over the years, there wasn’t a whole lot of new material to uncover. What I thought the doc did a good job of was resetting the table with these stories people may have forgotten, and then retelling them not through secondary sources, but from the horse’s mouth. 

That goes a long way. 

Plus, for me personally, I’m not as much of a Bulls historian as a lot of fans, but I have snapshot memories of Michael Jordan. I see him pumping his fist after the Game 1 winner vs Utah, hanging his follow through after the Game 6 winner, throwing air punches after the foul-line jumper over Craih Ehlo. I know in general how dominant he was, but a lot of the details felt new to me, even if they actually weren’t. 

Finally, I have never heard Jordan flat out say he wanted to come back to try to win a seventh championship, that he didn’t want to retire and that he was, in essence, forced into it by an organization bent on a rebuild. Maybe he’s said this somewhere before. I’ve never heard it. For that reason alone, the new material segment of this report card moves up from an average C to a solid B. 

Entertainment: A+

The entire series comes down a simple question: Were you entertained? If you answer no to that question, you can’t be human. This series, like this Bulls team and Jordan’s career as a whole, was off-the-charts entertaining. This wasn’t the highest-rated documentary in ESPN history just because everyone is stuck at home right now. This was loads of fun. They could announce tomorrow that 10 more episodes are coming and the people would rejoice. It stinks that it’s over. Which has to be the best compliment you can give any television program. 

Published at Sun, 17 May 2020 20:47:00 +0000

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