All hail Michael Jordan! We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!
Wow, how was that? A walk down memory lane! Sitting here thinking about it now, I must have been in Year 5, perhaps 9 or 10 years old in 1993, when I was first aware of Michael Jordan. Sure, he had been a world-wide phenomena for 9 years by that stage and had already 3-peated by then……. But I was growing up in Australia, in the Western suburbs of Sydney, and back in those days, kids like us were only interested in Rugby as a sport. Not a whole lot of basketball was being played out there in those school yards back then.
However in Year 6, when I changed schools to a more affluent Inner West educational institution, everyone there had NBA and Michael Jordan fever! I remember at the back of the classroom where we kept our bags and boaters, our teacher used to allow us to stick-up our favourite posters – no surprise, MJ’s dunk from the three throw line was one of those glossy posters up there. And all of a sudden I too was a basketball fanatic! I remember trading in my old NRL Rugby league trading cards for Upper Deck NBA Basketball cards, and my mum even enrolled me into after-school basketball classes (which I utterly sucked at). And I remember how we used to take running jumps, to randomly reach for and touch low hanging beams pretending to dunk like his Airness, and everyone in my class wanted to be like Mike!
Fast-forward 26 years, and we’re all locked down due to Covid-19 isolation, where no live sports are being played – but for ESPN and Netflix’s ‘The Last Dance’!
The Last Dance is a 10 part sports documentary, focusing on the Chicago Bulls and that man – Michael Jordan! The title of the documentary doesn’t spell out ‘Basketball’, but it was named as such, as entering the 97/98 NBA season, after winning 5 of 7 NBA championships, the 97/98 Bulls were told that this was going to be their ‘last dance’, as after the conclusion of the season their team would be disbanded. Thus they had one last shot to complete a two time 3-peat, a rare feat in any sport!
The documentary uses archival footage, from as early as the early 80s (even before I was born); behind the scenes footage shot during the 97/98 season; and interviews with 90 people who were all present during the 1984 – 1998 timespan. Even 2 former Presidents and 1 Playboy centrefold were interviewed!
Aside from capturing MJ’s life through the years of his basketball career, through an interesting method of telling the story of the 97/98 season, it also told the back story of the team and it’s key players by travelling back in time to the start of Michael’s career. And slowly telling his story, the story of those around him, until the past catches up with the present day (1998). And through that re-telling, it pretty much re-told our own life stories as well, as we cast our mind back to where we were in our own maturations, when all of these events unfolded. E.g. the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where the Dream Team were assembled for the very first time – that was the first Olympic Games I could remember as a child. Or the off-season when Michael was filming Space Jam – I remember being in Year 7 eating chips and collecting Space Jam TASZOS as in-packet collectables. Or stimulating a memory of the days when I used to play video games, i.e. NBA Live 96 and 99 – and feeling so devastated that in both of those years, Michael was retired thus I couldn’t play as the Bulls with the man MJ as my avatar. D’oh! All these memories flooded back thick and fast as I watched the Last Dance, so thank you, thank you Jason Hehir for this experience!
And if you want to experience the Last Dance in a more in-depth way? You have to re-watch the series, and listen to the companion podcast- Jalen & Jacoby- the After Show! Where former NBA star Jalen Rose and commentator David Jacoby host a podcast that dissects each episode of the Last Dance, immediately after its airing (or ‘Hehirring’, according to Jacoby). And it’s not just two fan boys chatting about what you had also seen, but they have behind the scenes intel, as each episode they’re joined by the Director of The Last Dance – the man of the hour, Jason Hehir! And after you hear from the man himself, you appreciate the 10 hour show even more, and my respect for Jason has utterly gone through the roof! He is one cool, measured man – and is a fantastic story teller.
From the pod, I learned that even though the documentary is pretty much a 10 hour homage to Michael, the production crew had only interviewed him twice, once as red shirt and once as blue shirt. And I learnt of all the effort the production team had put into the soundtrack of the documentary, that each montage showing one of Michael/Bulls runs- the music which was playing were tracks taken from that exact year to heighten the authenticity of what you were seeing and hearing. And ‘no way, how could Michael be the only one who got food poisoning from eating that mid-night pizza in Salt Lake City?’ When he was in a room with a bunch of boys playing cards? But I learnt that MJ often spat on his food, ensuring that no one else could eat from it, thus it was plausible that he was really poisoned ahead of game 6 of the 96/97 NBA finals! So if you want to learn all these truths for yourself, you’ll just have to listen to the After Show pod HERE!
The documentary filled in a load of gaps for me – sure, as a pre-teenage kid I picked up some of the detail which was going on at the time. But the doco fed me those facts again, and I was able to take it all in as an adult – which has now clarified and deepened my understanding of those iconic Bulls teams, and of Michael. And I guess, the one thing which I didn’t want to learn about MJ, which we all have now learnt, is the fact that Michael was probably a bully, a jerk, and a man who used to love to rub people’s faces in it. It’s a bit disappointing to have my image of him tarnished by firsthand accounts from people who knew him intimately, but hey! I guess you need to walk over others, to get to where you want to be.
But yeah, thank you Jason Hehir for giving this gift to us, while we were in iso. When I think back in a further 26 years’ time, to these weird days of 2020, I’ll always remember the experience of watching The Last Dance for the very first time! Woohoo! I’m so going to watch it all over again! To stream the Last Dance now, click HERE!