The Last Dance, an ESPN 10-part documentary miniseries about the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls, will debut this Sunday on April 19th. Fans demanded the premiere to be moved up after COVID-19 has halted all sports activity. ESPN obliged with the fans since the plan was to promote the series in congruence with the NBA Finals in June.
There’s a lot of expectations going into The Last Dance. The last time ESPN created something of this scale, (O.J. Made in America) the project won an Oscar for best documentary. Jason Hehir, the director of The Last Dance, also directed some of ESPN’s best 30 for 30 documentaries in The Fab Five, The 85 Bears, and HBO’s Andre the Giant.
The other notable documentary on the 97-98 Bulls was the yearly NBA produced Unforgettabulls. Sports fans know the basic story from the Bulls 6th Championship. Coach Phil Jackson handed out a packet labeled “the last dance” in the first team meeting following the 1997 championship. It was Phil Jackson’s last year, and Michael Jordan said he wouldn’t play for another coach. The band was not getting back together. The end to the most dominant run in sports from the 1990s was looming.
The Bulls went on to win their 6th championship, 2nd 3-peat, in 8 years against the Utah Jazz in thrilling fashion. Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone and proceeded to hit another iconic shot to his already storied career. There were bumps along the way, particularly in the conference finals against the Pacers, but nothing was stopping this team with a healthy Jordan.
So, what are the unanswered questions and expectations going into the documentary?
How bad was the animosity behind the scenes especially early in the season?
Fans forget about the beginning of the 97-98 season for the Bulls. The Bulls second best player, Scottie Pippen, was hurt and his presence was greatly missed. They struggled mightily out of the gate going 12-9 in their first 21 games. Opposing teams could taste the weakness from a team that had a lot of playoff miles on it. The Bulls almost looked mortal.
Steve Kerr from the Unforgettable Bulls,
I remember one particular game in Cleveland where we lost by about 20 points. And Michael was saying in the locker room afterwards that he shouldn’t have even come back. I mean it was ugly.
How ugly? Unsurprisingly, the Bulls ran the tables going a staggering 50-11 to finish the season. Jordan had enough and Pippen’s return rejuvenated the dynasty. Even with the return to dominance, the animosity remained. Dan Bernstein, the Bulls beat reporter at the time, recently reminisced the dark feelings behind the scenes.
Amid this march to the championship, there was a grimness to the whole thing, there was a weight that was palpable the entire time, everybody felt heavy, and part of it is the dark side of Jordan’s personality.
The victories felt like relief. Losses felt really heavy once they got to the playoffs. It should have been this joyous thing, you see the fans screaming, going crazy, and people talking about that being like the Beatles, it didn’t feel like that from the inside.
You can find the full quote here from 670 The Score.
The exclusive interviews
Barack Obama, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Bill Cartright, Bill Wennington, Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing, Isah Thomas, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson, Roy Williams, Steve Kerr, Justin Timberlake, Carmen Electra, and of course Michael Jordan. That’s a short list that was revealed from the trailer
The trailer did not include Reggie Miller or Karl Malone. The Bulls battles in the conference Finals and finals deserve their own episode. Appearances from Miller and Malone is likely. The point of view from outside of Chicago will be key to this film.
How many role players from the Bulls will be interviewed? Will we see Jud Buechler, Dickey Simpkins, or the forgettable Rusty LaRue? Ron Harper, PG from the starting five, has been interviewed the least over the years. Hopefully he will be included.
The shenanigans of Dennis Rodman
There was even a whole 30 for 30 about Rodman. The Bulls part of his career was only a small part of For Better or Worse. Pippen didn’t participate in that film either so it will be interesting to see if Hehir will tackle Scottie’s relationship with Rodman.
Jordan from the film For Better or Worse,
In all honesty, playing with Dennis and (seeing) the lifestyle he lived, I never thought he’d see 40 because he burned the candle at both ends.
Is there footage of Rodman showing up to practice drunk? Rodman lived a hard and depressing lifestyle. The amount of alcohol he consumed while still managing the high performance level is miraculous. This was also the year Rodman was gearing up for a wrestling match in WCW. He teamed up with Hollywood Hulk Hogan to face Karl Malone and Diamond Dallas Page. Yes, this actually happened.
The mythical nature of Michael Jordan
From every Jordan story that gets told over the years, there are hints to his gambling addiction. This is a very taboo and sensitive subject. Dan Bernstein noted Jordan’s dark side. He was more alluding to his unforgiving competitive nature. Players would speak of practices where Jordan was relentless. Every moment was competition. There are shots of Jordan playing golf and cards on a plane from the trailer. This is expected to be the focal point of the documentary.
How has the legacy of the 97-98 Bulls evolved?
The gloom feeling from the inside will be revealed to the rest of the world. Will it tarnish the feel-good ending to the Bulls dynasty? Bulls fans already knew of frustrations from Pippen, Jordan, and Phil Jackson with the front office. They didn’t know the organization would fall this far from grace.
The 2020 Bulls team was a mess filled with injuries and mediocrity. Chicago hosted the All-Star game with zero All-Star selections. During All-star weekend, Chicago fans voiced their opinion on the nationally televised ESPN show First Take and proceeded to chant “Fire GarPax!” Letting the nation know how frustrated Chicago fans are with the front office.
The Bulls have made bad draft picks, lack luster trades, and have suffered unfortunate series of injuries to key players like Derrick Rose. The 90s dynasty feels like yesterday, but at the same time it feels ages ago. Living through disappointment year after year, Bulls management and fans wonder if it’s possible to capture the magic of The Last Dance ever again.