Monday, April 05, 2021

The Last Dance (2020)

It was great to get the full-scale blow-by-blow on the career of Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls. I lived through it but didn't follow it that closely—I resented Jordan a little as the immovable object standing in the way of my beloved Seattle SuperSonics (some other documentary will have to talk about the 1993 Western Conference playoffs). This 10-part eight-hour epic treatment covers all of Jordan's time with the Bulls but it's formally built around the 1997-1998 season and the quest for a sixth NBA championship and second three-peat within the space of eight years. All you have to know about Jordan's significance to the team is that the two years the Bulls missed the NBA finals are the period when he was mostly out of the game, "retired" and playing baseball. That's covered here as well—everything I could think of was covered here. That 1997-1998 season had already been dubbed "The Last Dance" by coach Phil Jackson, who had been informed in no uncertain terms at the beginning of the year that it would be his last with the Bulls. If there is a bad guy anywhere in this story it is general manager Jerry Krause, who refused to concede Jackson's ability and importance. On the other hand, it was Krause in the first place who eased Doug Collins out in favor of Jackson in the late '80s. Jackson's coaching style was more team-oriented as opposed to Collins's, whose main strategy was to get the ball to Jordan. Sensible enough on its face, but Jackson had vision. Krause made other good decisions too, starting with drafting Jordan, working the trades to get Scottie Pippen, being willing to take a chance on Dennis Rodman (quite possibly the strangest human being I have ever known of), and more. Still, at least the way this documentary tells it, Krause often seemed determined to undermine even his own greatest successes, alienating Jordan, Pippen, Jackson, and others. I had a hard time believing the success of the Bulls myself in real-time, but a lot of people in this story had a hard time understanding Jordan's greatness. Maybe the best parts of all in this documentary are the recaps and broadcast footage of the championship tournaments, when Jordan performed regularly at impossible levels. Of course, with the good comes the bad, and the flaws of a man like Jordan are all in his extreme focus on winning, easily seen in a tender and reflexive hubris. He still hates the Detroit Pistons to this day, except Rodman, and he snorts and shakes his head at lesser players such as Gary Payton or Reggie Miller who dare to compare their skills to his. I'm sure I'd be even more cocky if I were him. I was never a Bulls fan but Jordan was an overwhelming force of nature, and an awesome and beautiful thing to behold as well. This one is definitely worth the time.

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