Column: ‘The Last Dance’ was entertaining but flawed, much like its subject

Adam Tumino, Editor-in-Chief

It sure is nice to have some sports content to talk about.

Sunday night saw the end of ESPN’s 10-part documentary series “The Last Dance,” which provided a look into the Chicago Bulls’ quest for a sixth NBA Championship and into the mind of Jordan.

The final product was thoroughly entertaining but far from perfect, leaving much to be desired journalistically.

What the series did well, however, it did very well.

Director Jason Hehir and his team did an excellent job telling the story, using a timeline to weave the Bulls’ final championship run into everything that happened before. Even with the story jumping back in time, sometimes even by several decades, it was easy to follow and understand.

As a result, there is tension created when the two ends of the timeline get closer and closer and the backstory finally catches up to 1998.

Genuine emotion is also sprinkled throughout the series. The segment on the 1993 murder of Jordan’s father James is heartbreaking.

But perhaps the series’ greatest achievement was providing a sports-starved public with some much-needed content.

“The Last Dance” shows some of the greatest athletes in basketball history playing some of the greatest games ever played in one of the most vital eras in NBA history.

Some of the highlights never get old, no matter how many times you see Scottie Pippen dunk on Patrick Ewing and then step over his fallen opponent or Jordan’s iconic buzzer-beater over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 postseason. These moments are still exciting.

The ninth episode exhibited the very best tendencies of the series. It is the best of the 10 episodes by far with a segment on the background of the ever-loveable Steve Kerr standing out, especially when he discusses his father’s assassination in 1984. The segment will leave many clamoring for a separate Kerr documentary, and rightfully so.

Also in the ninth episode is the story of Jordan’s relationship with his head security guard Gus Lett, who became a father figure for Jordan before battling cancer.

On the court, episode nine shows Jordan’s legendary “flu game,” a highlight that is still exhausting to watch.

Unfortunately, “The Last Dance” falls short in a very important way. If does not so much seek to understand Jordan as it does justify his behavior.

Frankly, Jordan is a jerk. He was when he played and he is now. Jordan’s defense for being a jerk usually boils down to, “but it worked.”

Sure, he won six championships and is one of the greatest athletes of all time, but it would have been nice to see some examination of Jordan’s treatment of his teammates.

Why was he so mean to Scott Burrell? Burrell seems like such a nice guy.

Even more upsetting is the complete lack of information on Jordan’s personal life beyond his gambling and his relationship with his father.

Inexplicably, his children are not interviewed until the very last episode, and only asked what they remember about their father’s final game with the Bulls in 1998.

How did Jordan’s extreme competitiveness and extraordinary fame affect his children and home life? That insight is lacking, and the series suffers for it.

Carmen Electra is interviewed more times than Jordan’s children, an editorial decision that is simply baffling.

As a whole, “The Last Dance” feels a lot like a Michael Jordan production, perhaps in part because Jordan’s production company Jump 23 was involved in the film. The involvement criticized earlier this month by documentarian Ken Burns.

“The Last Dance” is more of a celebration of Jordan the player than an in-depth examination of Jordan the person. It is still a lot of fun to watch, but it could have been much more personal and meaningful.


Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].