‘The Last Dance’ shows Michael Jordan like never before and fills a void for sports fans during coronavirus
Michael Jordan reflected on his career during interviews for "The Last Dance."(ESPN)
For more than 30 years, Michael Jordan has been among the most recognizable superstars on the planet. But never before have people seen him like this.
The singular NBA icon’s last year in Chicago is the focus of ESPN and Netflix’s new documentary series “The Last Dance,” which features in-depth interviews and loads of previously unseen footage from the tension-filled 1997-98 season.
Before that pivotal campaign, Jordan and the Bulls granted NBA camera crews with unprecedented access to cover the team. They compiled nearly 500 hours of footage that went unused for more than two decades — until the “The Last Dance.”
“‘Revealing and candid and honest’ are criteria that we always strive to meet when we’re telling any story, especially with Michael, whose image over the years is so polished and who seems like such a perfect iconic figure in pop culture,” the series’ director, Jason Hehir, told the Daily News on Wednesday.
“It’s always fascinating for me to discover the human beings behind the icons, and there is no bigger icon than Michael Jordan. Discovering the humanity in someone who’s that culturally significant was really satisfying.”
Jordan, 57, sat down with Hehir for three interviews that totaled about eight hours to reflect on his career. Not once did Jordan give restrictions about what could be included in the series.
Those interviews, along with conversations with Jordan’s teammates, opponents and others connected to the Bulls dynasty, are featured throughout “The Last Dance,” which debuts its first two episodes Sunday on ESPN beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern.
The Bulls had won two consecutive championships and five in the previous seven seasons going into the 1997-98 campaign. But the the team’s stubborn front office indicated that no matter what, it would be the final year that coach Phil Jackson and the core players would all be together. “The Last Dance” is the slogan Jackson used to inspire the players ahead of the season.
“I’m excited for this because I think there’s a whole generation of young basketball players and fans who have only heard about Michael and who didn’t really experience his dominance,” Steve Kerr, who played with Jordan on three Bulls title teams, said Monday during a conference call.
“To really see it up close, to see the impact he had on the game, to see not only the physical but the mental and the emotional dominance he carried with him on the court every single game, I think will be really interesting and enlightening for an entire generation of young fans.”
The 1997-98 season is the centerpiece of “The Last Dance,” but the series also covers Jordan’s college years at North Carolina, the beginning of his NBA career and his postseason heroics ahead of that final championship run. The backstories of Jackson, Kerr, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman are also featured.
“The Last Dance” was initially scheduled to premiere June 2, but its release was accelerated after the coronavirus pandemic left the world without any live sports.
Hehir and his team already had multiple episodes ready to go when discussions to move up the premiere date began last month. The director says they managed to continue making the series from their respective homes without the quality of the project suffering.
“It’s something that my team and I were really excited to do, just to be able to contribute in some small way to providing an escape or a diversion for people who are stuck in their homes and enduring this on several different levels,” Hehir said. “It was great to be able to say, ‘Hey, we might be able to chip in here with something that would make people happy for an hour or two every week in the midst of this chaos.’”
ESPN will premiere two new episodes every Sunday through May 17. Internationally, the series will be available on Netflix, with two episodes debuting every Monday beginning April 20.