By Gio Gloria
After 38 or so of quarantine days, basketball is back! No, the NBA season is still (sadly) on hold and the PBA is still in limbo. What’s filling the void created by the coronavirus disease is the premiere of The Last Dance, the highly-anticipated documentary series of Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls.
Spread over 10 episodes, the star-studded documentary gives viewers an in-depth look at arguably the greatest player to play in the NBA and his pursuit of a sixth championship, with all the drama and hoopla that came with playing for a team that ruled the 90’s or was, as the late NBA commissioner David Stern put it, “one for the ages”.
“There’ll never be quite another team like this,” the late commissioner said on the sidelines prior to the Bulls’ home opener against the Philadelphia 76ers back in November 1997. Stern did have a point. No other team has had that much draw and fear factor, and when “Sirius” was blared on the speakers, you knew it was game time.
The first of two episodes that came out this week set the stage for what was the last run for a collection of eccentric personalities, hardwood legends, and a generational icon. The Bulls’ title run in the 1997-1998 NBA season deserved a series in itself, but it wouldn’t be complete without providing context for all the storylines throughout that season. Just like how Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man, and Avengers, films never registered on film critics’ greatest movies list but set the stage for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.
To really appreciate His Airness, we needed to revisit what made him Mike, Michael, MJ, and eventually the GOAT. Viewers needed to see the sorry state the Bulls were in prior to drafting the charismatic Jordan in 1984, the trade for 7- time All-NBA and 10-time All-NBA Defensive teamer Scottie Pippen, who Jordan calls his “best teammate of all time”, the hiring of Phil Jackson, and the defeat of the Bad Boy Pistons in 1991 en route to the Bulls’ first title. The ending was surely nice, but the journey was a beauty in itself.
In the buildup to the 1997-1998 season, the Bulls headed to Paris for the McDonald’s Championship. The reception MJ and the team received was warm to say the least, a revelation that speaks volumes of his influence when you remember that France was a football country that would go on to win its first World Cup in 1998. Even during the preseason, one could notice Jordan never let up, echoing Ahmad Rashad’s words in that he plays every game as if it were his last.
Overall, The Last Dance was a reminder that Michael Jordan remains a universal icon for more than 15 years after his last game. ESPN later reported that Episode 1 generated an average of 6.3 million viewers, the highest for any ESPN documentary. The hype surrounding the series further reinforces MJ’s profound and timeless impact not just on the sport, but in pop culture as well. As one of the faces in the Bulls crowd said in Episode 1, “Words can’t describe him. He’s poetry in motion.”
The respect he gets from his peers and those that were able to see him play during his prime further adds to his legend. His videos are readily available, but the first two episodes from The Last Dance continue to elicit reactions from his contemporaries and those that know him like the palms of their hands.
Michael Jordan’s Last Dance was fantastic and I loved all two hours of it!! Young fans that never got to see Michael play now understand why he’s the 🐐 of basketball!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 20, 2020
Mike from another planet lol… #TheLastDance … Pip slept on like a mf too smh
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) April 20, 2020
Most of the younger generation only got to witness Jordan through highlights, clips on social media, and during his stint with the Washington Wizards. The Last Dance provides us another perspective of his prime, with the cracks within the Bulls organization behind-the-scenes all the more evident. The writing was on the wall, more-so for Phil Jackson, who himself knew his time had come and conditioned the team of this fact during the preseason.
Nothing lasts forever. It’s a fact of life that was pretty much the theme for the Bulls during the 1997-1998 season. With their mind set to go all in before they parted ways, it was then no surprise that they pulled out all the stops and ended on top.
COVID-19 has taken the game away from us for quite some time and with the release of The Last Dance, perhaps we’ve found a new appreciation for that time when Jordan and the Bulls dominated the league. Sure, it’s all in the past and we’ve had various stars and teams try to take the mantle of the best ever, but Bulls center Bill Wennington said it best when describing the buildup to one of the most legendary runs in sports history.
“[E]njoy what’s happening because this is it.”