That is why the latest documentary from Netflix, co-produced by ESPN Films, has turned out to be such a welcome breath of fresh air in the genre. The Last Dance could have easily become a one-dimensional film worshipping the great Michael Jordan. Instead the film looks at one of the most recognisable sports personalities on the planet and the result is one of the most watched sport documentaries of all time.
Flashback to the late 1990s. NBA basketball was the biggest sport in the world – and the team that dominated it was the Chicago Bulls. In the spotlight was the great Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketballer of all time. But as the team went into the 1998 season there was as much going on behind the scenes as there was on the court.
The Bulls were competing to achieve their second three-peat in titles while the front office of the Bulls was making it publicly known that this would be coach Phil Jackson’s last season at the helm. That news caused a media storm as everybody publicly speculated whether Jackson leaving the Bulls would see the likes of Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman also looking for a way out at the end of the season.
The filmmakers behind The Last Dance leave no stone unturned as they chase every lead to get the true story behind the Bulls of the 1990s. Their cameras were allowed in every inch of the Bulls’ headquarters and they even had unrestricted access to the team while they were on the road. The icing on the cake has been the fact that those filmmakers have been able to sit down and interview the main players in the Bulls’ story 30 years later – those interviews include the elusive Jordan himself.
Unlike most sports documentaries The Last Dance puts all the evidence out on the table and lets the audience decide who were the heroes and villains in the story at hand. While the film does look at the genius and skills of Jordan while also highlighting the key parts of his life and career that got him to the highest heights, it also explores how his teammates viewed him. To hear what the likes of Pippen, Scott Burrell and Steve Kerr thought of their gifted teammate. It is their testimonies that help the audience work out their own thoughts on Jordan – was he a great team-player or someone who bullied some teammates who deserved better. The evidence is there, it is just up to the audience to make their own decision.
What makes The Last Dance such a captivating documentary is how open the interviewees are. Michael Jordan goes from a man who is very guarded about his personal life to someone who openly talks about the emotions he went through when his father was brutally murdered. Many interviewees are also surprised as filmmakers show them what opponents and teammates said about them. Seeing Jordan responding ‘live’ to things like Reggie Miller talking about their epic battles is priceless television, especially if you are a hardened NBA fan.
The Last Dance is the kind of documentary series that can be enjoyed by those both those who love sport and those who know very little about it. NBA lovers will salivate at the idea of the getting a behind-the-scenes look at one of the greatest sporting dynasties of all time while others will find themselves tuning in episode after episode as they become engrossed by a drama that even the likes of Carmen Electra, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama found themselves drawn into.
Dramatic, gripping and heart-breaking, The Last Dance contains all the emotions that most sports documentaries forgot all about.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus