Because I am usually the last to finish these things, I just only yesterday completed “The Last Dance,” the epic 10-part miniseries about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty that aired on ESPN the last five weeks.
“The Last Dance” was a gallon of cold water to sports fans walking through the desert these past weeks, a chance to gather around the virtual water cooler and talk about actual games and actual sports.
It helped that it starred Jordan, the second-greatest basketball player of all time (LeBron says hi) and a cast of colorful characters, and for a Generation X kid like me, the documentary was a trip through memory lane of 1990s basketball.
We got the thuggish Knicks, the high-flying Sonics, the last gasps of the Bad Boy Pistons… the memories were fantastic.
Some scattered thoughts on the series as a whole, as we wait for current sports to come back:
— So the first thing that must be pointed out is that Jordan is the main reason this documentary series happened, and he had a big hand in the editorial direction it took. In other words, the series made Jordan look as good as possible. His negative traits (being a jerk to teammates, opponents and everyone else) are minimized as much as possible, and he is glorified to the nth degree. The fact that Ahmad Rashad is used so extensively should tell you all you need ot know.
— But that said, the footage was outstanding, and worth it if it took Jordan’s blessing to get seen. The behind-the-scenes stuff in the locker room, on the team plane, in practice… we don’t get to see that stuff, hardly ever. The Bulls dynasty had a ton of interesting characters, and seeing how they related to Jordan in non-game setting was fascinating. In particular I liked seeing how B.J. Armstrong and others gave it back to Michael sometimes.
— If there was a bigger a-hole than Jordan in “The Last Dance,” it was the Detroit Pistons. Wow were they awful as their dynasty came to the end. And hey Isiah Thomas? NO ONE wanted you on the 1992 Dream Team, it wasn’t just MJ.
— The music, as many have commented, was outstanding. Just fabulous throughout all 10 parts.
— The image above all that will stick with me from the whole series? Jordan flying to Las Vegas and pulling Dennis Rodman out of his hotel room to come back to the Bulls from his “midseason vacation,” while a naked Carmen Electra hid in the room. I mean… wow.
— Much more interesting to me than Jordan, who came off as the arrogant a-hole we already knew he was, were the stories of the role players on the dynastic team. The story of Steve Kerr, who was overlooked most of his life as not good enough, then hits the game-winning shot in the 1997 Finals, before giving a hilarious speech at the victory parade. And the stories of how awful the Bulls treated Toni Kukoc at the Olympics, and then when he came to the team, just because GM Jerry Krause loved him and all the players hated Krause.
— Finally, I will say I had my mind changed on one big part of Jordan’s legacy by this movie. I have previously given some credence to those who believed MJ’s 1994-95 retirement from basketball to go play baseball was a secret gambling suspension handed down by NBA commissioner David Stern.
But hearing all the reasons given by Stern and others why this is a laughable conspiracy theory (“the biggest capitalist commissioner in NBA history is going to suspend the biggest star in the sport?”) have convinced me: Jordan was just worn out from being Michael Jordan, and needed a break.
Anyway, if you haven’t watched it yet, “The Last Dance” is outstanding filmmaking. Highly recommend.
**Next up today, I love this story. A man named Rob Kenney saw his father walk out on Rob and his siblings when Rob was 14, leaving them to find for themselves. As such, Rob had to learn how to do a lot of “grown man” things on his own.
Now a father himself, Rob started a YouTube channel where he teaches kids, teens, and adults, basic and practical life skills. The kinds of things you might ask your dad to teach you. He calls it “Practical ‘Dadvice’ for everyday tasks.”
In two months he’s gotten more than 1.2 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. Very, very cool idea.
**Finally today, I’m a week or two late on this but the great Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has written a beautiful ode to live music, something millions of us are missing right now. Grohl starts by telling readers he was supposed to be in Washington D.C. in front of 80,000 people on July 4th this year, but of course he won’t be.
But his optimistic, fiery tone that live music will return, because it has to, was terrific. Here’s an excerpt from the piece.
Not to brag, but I think I’ve had the best seat in the house for 25 years. Because I do see you. I see you pressed against the cold front rails. I see you air-drumming along to your favorite songs in the distant rafters. I see you lifted above the crowd and carried to the stage for a glorious swan dive back into its sweaty embrace. I see your homemade signs and your vintage T-shirts. I hear your laughter and your screams and I see your tears. I have seen you yawn (yeah, you), and I’ve watched you pass out drunk in your seat. I’ve seen you in hurricane-force winds, in 100-degree heat, in subzero temperatures. I have even seen some of you grow older and become parents, now with your children’s Day-Glo protective headphones bouncing on your shoulders. And each night when I tell our lighting engineer to “Light ’em up!,” I do so because I need that room to shrink, and to join with you as one under the harsh, fluorescent glow.