‘The Last Dance’ Looks into the Career of Michael Jordan and the ‘97-98 Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan drives toward the lane in a 1996 NBA Finals game. Jordan is widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time for his accomplishments, including six NBA Championships in eight seasons from 1991 to 1998, and his immense individual talent.

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Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan drives toward the lane in a 1996 NBA Finals game. Jordan is widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time for his accomplishments, including six NBA Championships in eight seasons from 1991 to 1998, and his immense individual talent.

Simrat Singh, Co-Editor-in-Chief

With only 17 seconds left in the game, Michael Jordan strips the ball from Karl Malone and drives up the court. Jordan dribbles a few times, crosses over Bryon Russell and pulls up near the free throw line. As the ball seamlessly falls into the net, it is the perfect end to the perfect dynasty as the Chicago Bulls win the 1997-98 Championship over the Utah Jazz.

Entering the ‘97-98 season, it seemed likely that the legendary Bulls dynasty would be over because of general manager Jerry Krause making comments indicative of his intentions to rebuild the team despite their success. With this in mind, Andy Thompson, who worked for NBA Entertainment, requested permission to follow the team around due to their unprecedented greatness. 

This never-before-seen footage makes up “The Last Dance,” a documentary chronicling not only the ‘97-98 seasons, but also the careers of Jordan and Scottie Pippen, a fellow Hall-of-Famer who played alongside Jordan for all six of his championships. Two episodes are being released weekly every Sunday starting April 19. 

Episode 1: The first episode was definitely not a disappointment. For a younger generation of fans that was not able to experience the greatness of Michael Jordan first time, the beginning of the documentary definitely was able to convey the absolute presence and impact that he had on the league. One of the most impressive facets was director Jason Hehir’s decision to switch in between Jordan’s childhood and development to stardom to the ‘97-98 season. The implementation of interviews with Krause, coach Phil Jackson and a plethora of NBA players elevated the quality of the episode even more.

Episode 2: The second episode pulled especially on the heartstrings of the viewers. Listening and watching the stories of Pippen’s childhood and the immense poverty he and his family faced. This well-crafted backstory made me root for Pippen as he was dealing with issues with his contract and how he was vastly underpaid throughout all his excellence. Even with a heightened focus on Pippen, the documentary was able to balance this and Jordan’s career very impressively, by connecting their hard-working mentality and allowing the story to naturally flow rather than forcing a strict Jordan-focus. This episode made it evident that Jordan was a flawed person, but rather explored his reasoning which was interesting.

Episode 3: The third episode focused on the often forgotten member of the team, Dennis Rodman. The episode does a strong job of cutting together old clips of Rodman in interviews as a young player and his antics as the years progressed in order to reveal how he has changed as a person. One of the most powerful messages the documentary conveys through Rodman is the idea of trying to be your best self regardless of public perception. 

At the same time, the documentary also continues with the evolution of Jordan’s career, following not only his first playoff successes, but also his long-standing rivalry with the Detroit Pistons. Jordan’s own charisma and pure energy shine through the interviews as his pure hatred for this team withstands the test of time.

Episode 4: The fourth episode of the documentary was by far the strongest in terms of its focus. From discussing coach Jackson and his relaxed mentality to featuring several of Jordan’s professional conflicts that lead to his growth as a person and a player, this episode slows down the pace of the documentary by emphasizing the years before the championships. 

The decision made by Hehir to interview Isiah Thomas, Jordan’s largest career rival, was successful. The back-and-forth between the two, with each player having entirely different opinions, was highly entertaining. 

One interesting choice that the director made was to have clips from Jordan or Thomas played to the other interviewee. Getting their reactions was an intelligent way of establishing interactions between the interviewees, as up to this point all interviews and conversations were completely isolated.

Episode 5: This episode of the documentary provides a look into the legacy and influence of Jordan rather than his actual basketball accomplishments. One of the biggest foci was Jordan’s relationship with Kobe Bryant.

Bryant’s recent passing heightened the emotion as a remembrance of the great player. Hearing Bryant speak about the important role that Jordan played in his career was a nice touch, as the documentary paid homage to the Lakers legend, dedicating the episode to him.

The documentary was once more able to seamlessly transition between topics, following Jordan’s path to becoming world-renowned. Jordan’s popularity was first rooted in his strength as a player; however, it grew with his shoe line, the Air Jordans. This idea of “Being Like Mike” also provided insight into the stresses of being a role model and how it inhibited Jordan’s ability to enjoy life.

Episode 6: One strong facet of this episode was its ability to transition immediately from the previous episode without a sudden jump in time. The progression felt natural as viewers continued to see the slow breakdown of Jordan’s greatness in the media’s eyes. After several controversies, including his gambling excursions and questions about his leadership style, Jordan began to grow annoyed with the media.

The episode did a good job focusing not only on basketball and the games, but also on what led Jordan to retire for the first time in 1993. This look into everything that negatively influenced Jordan’s life and happiness humanizes a player who always seemed otherworldly. At the same time, with all the controversies going on around him, Jordan and the Bulls lifted the championship for the third time consecutively. These continued victories cemented the team as one of the greats. 

One of the most sorrowful moments came with the appearance of Jordan’s father and how his father was able to consistently help him fight against the negative media influence by fielding media questions and providing an escape from the rest of the world. While the episode concludes at the end of the ‘93 finals, we now know that Jordan’s dad would be murdered later in that same year, making it especially difficult to get through those scenes.

Episode 7: From the beginning to the end, this episode is easily the most emotionally trying. This episode took the focus away from basketball, exploring the complexities of Jordan’s emotional state and motivations. The episode begins with his father’s death, but it is slanted through the media’s perspective, which decides to use his father’s death as an opportunity to attack Jordan. 

Jordan’s journey through baseball and the importance it had on his development is fascinating to watch. The episode focuses a lot on who Jordan is and whether or not he is a good person, especially focusing on the way he talks to his teammates.

One shocking moment was seeing Jordan tear up describing how he approached the game and mournfully explaining why he approached the game the way he did. One important character trait Jordan mentions is his competitive nature, this ultimate desire to never lose regardless of how small or how big the competition is, and this helped him push his teammates to another level.

The most riveting moments of the episode definitely came with the display of the Bulls ‘93-94 season without Jordan where they saw success to some extent led by Pippen. This scene, played right after showing Jordan enjoying his time in minor league baseball, made it seem that his decision to leave the game had been altogether a positive experience for everyone.

Episode 8: This episode was a direct continuation of the previous, chronicling Jordan’s decision to ultimately return to the team. The beauty of the documentary was really highlighted with relatively unknown stories like Jordan’s inspiration and motivation to return back to the league. Jordan’s return was primarily facilitated through his teammate BJ Armstrong who convinced Jordan to come visit the team, which quickly led to the rekindling of Jordan’s spirit and eventually his involvement in the game once more.

Watching Jordan struggle was captivating as his career was so filled with greatness. The moment that stood out to me was the way he used any event that he perceived as a slight to motivate him. Entering the ‘95-96 Finals, he felt insulted when George Karl, coach of the Seattle Supersonics, didn’t greet him when they were at a restaurant despite their previously cordial relationship. This snub motivated Jordan to play at another level against the Supersonics. 

The championship victory displayed the lasting impact that Jordan’s father’s passing had on him. The final game of the series, played on Father’s Day, ended with the Bulls’ fourth championship. Yet Jordan, rather than being ecstatic, was crying on the floor with a basketball in his hand: a truly heart-wrenching moment.

Episode 9: With the focus straying from the game of basketball for the past few episodes, the series refocused onto the strength and versatility of the Bulls’ team. The episode focuses on two especially difficult series that challenged the team: the ‘97 Finals against the Utah Jazz and the ‘98 Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers. Both series not only displayed the grit of the team, but also continue to delve into Jordan’s mindset.

In each series, Jordan had to trust his teammates to step up late in the game in order to ensure their victory. This willingness to trust his teammates displayed Jordan’s development, as in his earlier years, he would be inclined to force up a shot in any circumstance.

The episode also highlighted the specifics behind Jordan’s legendary ‘Flu Game.’ Watching Jordan struggle through a serious illness and continue to push himself in an NBA Finals game was amazing to watch. That game truly encapsulated Jordan’s drive to always get the job done. With the conclusion taking the timeline to the ‘98 NBA Finals, it sets up the last episode to focus on Jordan’s final games with the Bulls.

Episode 10: The final episode focused primarily on the ‘98 NBA Finals, particularly Game 6, which ended up being the last game Jordan ever played for the Bulls. The gravitas of that series and game to Jordan and the team was apparent in the demeanor and effort they put in to win. Pippen was suffering from back ailments that stiffened his movement and impaired his ability to play, something that was not well known at the time.

Ultimately, Jordan stepped up in order to push the Bulls to their sixth championship in eight years, and the ending of that season seemed bittersweet. All the players and coaches recounting that win talked not only of the greatness of the team, but also the desire to return for a seventh championship, an opportunity they were not able to actualize due to managerial decisions.

The ending of the series left a slightly unsatisfying taste in my mouth through the director’s specific choices. It gave me the feeling that there was more that could have been told, similar to how the Bulls felt that they had the capability to continue to push for at least one more championship. This decision was a masterful way to engross basketball fans, letting their imaginations run wild to fill in their own ideas of what could have been.

*This article will be updated with reviews on new episodes as they release*