Put on your dancing J’s. This is your life’s new favorite jam.
(No spoilers ahead. Unless you didn’t know that the Jazz lose in 6)
Different people have different opinions about second chances.
The cynical believe there shouldn’t even be such a thing; the more gracious will vehemently defend everyone’s right to one.
Last chances however, are trickier. You never know when it’s your last crack at something, you never know which straw is finally going to do the camel’s back in.
Not unless you’re Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls.
Sitting alone and watching The Last Dance before it dropped was surreal. Finally, here’s some sports. Something new-ish, something we’ve been waiting for finally arriving. On what would have been the last day before the NBA Playoffs began, I jumped back in time and relived my 10-year-old self’s basketball memories: MJ and the Repeat Three-Peat.
This was a team that, as you know by now, was gruesomely and mercilessly assigned an expiration date. Mere weeks after hoisting a fifth title in seven years, Bulls management made it clear to the world: Phil Jackson is done after this season, and the most dominant team of a generation was going to be rebuilt.
That’s the backdrop for what I am certain, after seeing it finally, will be one of the defining pieces of sports storytelling in history. This series is an achievement in filmmaking, in history re-telling. If you take anything away from this “review” at all, let it be this: This will be your favorite documentary of all time.
It’s that good.
Maybe it’s because it’s MJ and Scottie and Phil and everything that Dennis Rodman is. Maybe it’s because basketball is the perfect metaphor for most of life’s most spectacular and most painful themes. Possible, maybe even likely. But it goes above and beyond all that. The access that was granted to one of the most historic pop culture figures in history is unbelievable. Just when you thought you’d seen every highlight, every game, every interview – just when you thought you knew the whole story – this series proves time and time again that you don’t.
And that’s the most exhilirating part.
This was a secret. And the people who’ve kept it for decades finally spilled the beans. In an era of ultra-connectedness, where your favorite athlete is on Instagram everyday letting you in on what’s for dinner, or why his new sneaker is green, or which other athlete he’s off-court BFF’s with, it’s refreshing to be reminded of the mystique, of the mystery that once surrounded the world’s most famous.
Compare the amount of information you have today about the NBA’s 20th best athlete to how little people knew about the non-Big-3-Bulls of ‘98. It’s staggering. If social media existed then, Toni Kukoc would have enjoyed Kyle Kuzma fame. Easy.
Let that sink in for a second. I’m very proud of that take.
This is by no means an assault towards millenial culture and the bountiful wifi this generation has been gifted with. I will forever go on record to say that I am thankful for being alive now and not some other point in history for three main reasons: this is when my fiancee was born, 30-minute pizza delivery and the internet.
This is however, a needed reminder that things weren’t always like this. People knew less, their voices not as amplified, their thoughts and feelings less shared publicly.
To see the story from the various points of view that The Last Dance presents is an experience that admittedly can get overwhelming. There were multiple times when I was inclined to pause an episode just to take a breath and say “I never knew that even happened like that.”
My favorite part about the series however, is the candor of it all. Some of the most exalted sports figures ever – guys who are now Hall of Famers, coaches, broadcasters, team owners – talking like there were no cameras there. No polish, no PR-approved statements, no retrospective crowd-pleasing BS. They talked the way we’ve never heard them talk, the way we probably won’t ever hear today’s best players talk (at least not til they’re long retired too). Cussing, trashtalking, “I still hate him”, all the present-day interviews matched the jarring realness of the 1998 behind-the-scenes footage.
It’s intoxicating. Watching The Last Dance will feel like a high I can’t put into perfect words.
Sitting alone and watching The Last Dance was surreal. Watching basketball on TV, in April, should be a communal experience, a shared moment with family and friends who all filed fake sick leaves to watch the Playoffs. These times however, force us to do things differently. We’re forced to watch them in solace almost, no conversations on the side, no seatmates asking you to explain something they don’t get.
It’ll be strange, yes. Especially if you factor in the fact that this footage has been stored away and unseen for 22 years, and that its existence and “awesomeness” has been floating in the ether, a mysterious Horcrux hiding in plain sight for about half that time. And yet, after years and years of putting it off, it now comes to us two full months ahead of when it was supposed to – aiming to help a healing world cope. We will watch this apart, together. All of us almost, two episodes, a week at a time. At the same time.
I say this without any exagerration, this documentary might be one of the last pieces of monoculture left. I mean that. Honestly.
Honesty is different from historical accuracy. The braintrust behind the still-inexplicable decimation of the greatest basketball team of their time will surely recall things differently from the players and coaches who rebelliously allowed a camera crew to infiltrate their final season together as a final act of spite.
“The Truth” and “Your Truth” sometimes don’t reside in the same place. The Last Dance tells A Truth. And it does so in the most honest way possible: straight from the horses’ mouths, with actual footage from the racetracks and stables, if you will.
Honesty, actually the lack of it, is sometimes why many of us blow first chances and is the reason we require second ones, or thirds or fourths. These chances many of us often blow, waste, take for granted.
And we almost never know when a chance is the last.
In a weird, selfish, funny way, maybe it’s better the Bulls got broken up too early. They got to show us what it takes to make the most of an opportunity, especially a last one.
The Last Dance will forever be a standing example of what the truly determined, the truly united, and yes, the truly petty can do when you tell them their time is up.
They become timeless.