Michael Jordan was years ahead of the game. The Last Dance has shown that it is still | sport

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The last dance, the hugely popular documentary series co-produced by ESPN and Netflix on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s, ended last week with the same delusional public reception he entered – a reminder that the imposing presence of Jordan endures almost two decades after his playing days.

Anticipation of the ambitious 10-part docuseries, which was originally scheduled to air in June at this year’s NBA Finals, had grown since the release of a glossy Christmas trailer showing images unpublished and a The list of interviewees strewn with stars is full of prominent celebrities, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and a who’s who of basketball luminaries.

However, he arrived at a time as singular as the sportsman he describes: with the world of sport at an unprecedented stop in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic and millions of people desperate for the shared experience as the playoffs from the NBA would offer otherwise right now. The episodes, which aired in prime time on ESPN before their international release the next day on Netflix, have become weekly TV shows in the past month and a half, with an average of 5.648 million viewers (and, apparently does he have no place Tiger king the most requested documentary in the world).




Next, NBA Commissioner David Stern presents Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls with the championship trophy after the Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns in game six of the NBA Finals in 1993.

Then, NBA Commissioner David Stern presents Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls with the championship trophy after the Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns in game six in the 1993 NBA Finals. Photo: Andrew D Bernstein / NBAE

The last dance ostentatiously tells the story of Jordan’s last titanic and tumultuous season with the Bulls and his monolithic quest for excellence on hardwood, but the panoramic canvas allows for long detours and richly drawn sidebars that never feel foreign. Jordan’s own trajectory, from the baby-faced lover to the larger-than-life symbol, to the myth of the last days, is told in an exhaustive way through an elegant mixture of archive footage, interviews of today today and a free soundtrack.

Long segments are however devoted to the other main ones of the Jordanian orbit: Scottie Pippen, the famous winger and only constant apart from Jordan on the six Chicago title teams; Dennis Rodman, the free-spirited and hard-partying bounce machine; Phil Jackson, the hippie-mystical head coach whose triangular offensive helped unleash the team’s potential.

But the star of the play is Jordan, who after all these years remains both overexposed and mysterious: both the most important cultural benchmark that the United States has ever produced and something of a recluse that n ‘spoke only sparingly of the imperial reign of the Bulls and a still mystifying rupture at the height of their powers.

“It’s exasperating because I felt like we could have won seven, I really believe it,” said Jordan. “We may not have it, but man, just so I can’t try, it’s something I just can’t accept. “

Before what turned out to be the team’s last season together – a sixth and final championship race – Jordan allowed the NBA’s internal entertainment division to film what has become over 500 hours of footage behind the scenes with the condition that it can be used only with its express consent.




President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Michael Jordan at the White House in 2016.

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Michael Jordan at the White House in 2016. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

It should be mentioned that Jordan’s own production company is one of the co-producers behind the project and that it has retained the final cut and editorial control. Even by introducing the less pleasant elements of Jordan’s legacy – his intimidation and tyrannical tendencies with his teammates and a well documented game problem (or, as he says, a competition problem) – warts are exposed to be smoothed. We have the unshakeable feeling that we see Jordan as he wants to be seen.

But if the story is written by the winners, then Jordan’s participation in his own hagiography is fair play, especially if the alternative means the invisible sequence that includes the narrative spine of The last dance would have remained locked in the league’s New Jersey vault. No one has earned more or given more of themselves by doing it – and not without the cost of personal relationships This is alludes to but it’s never far away.

The very fact that Jordan, whose meticulously famous control of his likeness was years ahead of his time, finally consented to a long documentary seems unlikely until you learn that he has given the green light only a few days after LeBron James’ epic return to the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, which rekindled the Jordan v LeBron pan-cultural debate for good.

Indeed, the charisma and strength of Jordan’s personality, as he disdains trash with so-called rivals like Gary Payton, Clyde Drexler and Isiah Thomas (whose brand may never recover), is enough to bury even the most annoying advertising aftertaste. Watching this 57-year-old man grappling with his legacy, whiskey in hand and weighing on decades-old scores, makes the theater compelling – not to mention the countless memes he fathered.




Michael Jordan smiles at a press conference in Chicago to announce his retirement in 1999.

Michael Jordan smiles at a press conference in Chicago to announce his retirement in 1999. Photo: Sue Ogrocki / Reuters

Jordan’s unrivaled field performance is matched only by his business acumen, which The last dance decompresses by its influence on urban culture and the effective launch of what has become sneaker culture. He earned a relatively modest salary of $ 90 million (£ 74 million) during his 15 year NBA career – with about $ 63 million coming in his last two seasons with the Bulls – but became the world’s first billionaire athlete by selectively aligning with brands like Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, McDonald’s and Upper Deck. He was always aware that his image was diluted as it was used. At a time when sports and entertainment titans routinely bypass traditional channels to control storytelling through their own production companies or friendly platforms, Jordan was years ahead of the game.

The film gestures to place Jordan’s legacy in a broader context, drawing on at least one former Chicago president and iconic colleague for authority. “There are great players who have no impact beyond their sport,” said Obama. “And then there are certain sports personalities who become a more important cultural force. Michael Jordan helped create a different way of thinking about African American athletes. A different way people viewed athletics as part of the entertainment industry. He became an extraordinary ambassador, not only for basketball, but for the United States abroad as part of the American culture that sweeps the world. Michael Jordan and the Bulls have changed the culture. “

But The last dance skillfully resists the temptation to exceed limits and remains focused on Jordan’s first and only concern: the pursuit of perfection and the total domination of his rivals. At a time when the games that bring us together have been suspended indefinitely, it is not surprising that people have turned to the next best thing – even if they know how the story ends.



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