The Last Dance shows Michael Jordan as you’ve never seen him before
Written by Reilly Hodson
Michael Jordan is an omnipresent figure. His sneakers are iconic, he made a movie with the Looney Tunes, he’s name-checked in rap songs more than almost anyone else, there’s even a movie called Like Mike with (Lil’) Bow Wow in it.
The Netflix documentary The Last Dance dives into Jordan’s legacy, following his final season with the Chicago Bulls as they win their third championship in a row, their sixth in under a decade, alongside references back to his high school, college and early NBA years. The first two episodes dropped on Netflix last night, with eight more to come, two at a time, over the next few weeks.
The Last Dance is directed by Jason Hehir, one of the masterminds behind ESPN’s genre-defining sports documentary series 30 for 30. Originally due to come out later in the year, the series’ release was pushed forward, and thank goodness it was. We’re now over a month into a world without organised sports, with some rare exceptions (Belarusian Premier League, anyone?), and while the finale of this series happened over 20 years ago, it’s still edge-of-your-seat viewing.
I confess that, before watching The Last Dance, my key reference points for Michael Jordan were Jordan Brand sneakers and Space Jam. I knew that Jordan was a great player, of course, but I was born too late to watch him first hand, and my interest in the NBA has peaked only in the LeBron James era. All the more reason, then, to explore the NBA’s late 90s through this documentary.During the 1997-1998 NBA season, the Bulls invited a camera crew to follow them around, from exhibition games in Paris right through the playoffs. None of the footage they shot had been released before this, so there is a tonne of imagery here that has never been seen before, with an intense insight into the personalities at the centre of the story. In one particularly gripping moment in the second episode, you see MJ absolutely unloading on his team mates. “It’s okay,” he tells one team mate, “you know why? Cause I got to scream at you all day.”
The Jordan portrayed in the documentary is a singular figure. On the court he’s unstoppable, poetry in motion like few athletes have ever been. As one commentator says, “Michael Jordan was about as good at his job as anyone has ever been at their job.” But off the court is another story: he’s (justifiably, I would argue) extremely confident, outspoken and brash. You get the impression that he’s probably not the best hang, but honestly, who cares? Watching him play is like watching real magic.
The talking-heads cast is great, too. There’s current-day MJ, in slightly worse shape than he was in his prime, sitting in his palatial home with a glass of whiskey and a cigar waiting at his side. There’s old coaches, from high school and college, and family members to talk about his early days. There’s also two former Presidents of the United States, including Barack Obama, introduced only as a “former Chicago resident.” It’s a group of figures, including almost every prominent basketball journalist, that could only be assembled for the GOAT (greatest of all time).
The Last Dance is easy to sum up: it’s a great sports documentary about one of the greatest athletes of all time. It does everything you’d want it to, with one exception: you can’t watch it all in one go. If you’re into sports, and have a Netflix subscription, this is a no brainer. Be warned, though: you will find yourself mindlessly refreshing Netflix every Monday for the next month or so.