ESPN’s The Last Dance, the docuseries that chronicles Michael Jordan’s journey to stardom and the Bulls’ dominance of the 90s, has been a constant subject of conversation since its release last month.
But it is not just Jordan himself who makes the series so captivating. There’s more. Jason Hehir, the director of the show who’s been engaged in multiple productions in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, unmasks the details of the underlying challenges that fuel Jordan. We learn more about the colorful characters around him, Pippen, Jackson, Rodman, Grant, Kerr, Kukoc, Krause and others.
As sports fans crawl through the darkness of Covid-19, The Last Dance is a worthy diversion. Since its release, the series has enjoyed heaping praise. It’s been nostalgic and somewhat revealing for those who lived through the Jordan era, whilst educating the new.
Critics of all walks of life have chimed in but who better judge The Last Dance than the men who covered Jordan, the NBA voices themselves. So we bring you fifteen reviews from the men who watched him play.
Many have been around the game forever. Ralph Lawler and Al McCoy started in the 70s. Mark Boyle, Kevin Calabro, Kevin Harlan, Gary Gerould, Steve Holman and David Steele began in the 80s.
This collection of reviews covers many facets of Jordan’s complicated personality and the riveting docuseries itself , each presented through a different lens.
NBA Announcers’ Reviews
Brian Anderson (Turner)
The series has been a fun watch. It has taken me back to my younger days when Jordan ruled the sports world.
I’ve enjoyed the incredible gathering of footage, the music, reliving the narratives that surrounded the “Beatles of the NBA,” the 90’s Chicago Bulls. The filmmakers did a great job weaving in historical context around the 1998 season. That said, it is definitely “Michael Jordan Approved” so, as a viewer, I’m sensing many other perspectives are only subject to MJ’s last words on the subject matter.
I was fortunate enough to witness Jordan up close in his playing days, covering him first as a hand held camera operator for live television, then as a sideline reporter. My feeling now is the same as it was then; MJ is the greatest player I’ve ever seen in any sport. I was/am in awe of his ability and drive. MJ is also someone I only want to admire from a distance. Knowing him on any level if you’re outside his circle is subjecting yourself to psychological warfare. I had a few of those encounters. He had a “Godfather” mystique about him that I wanted no part of experiencing.
Mark Boyle (Indiana Pacers – Radio)
Though I’ve enjoyed it, I wouldn’t say that The Last Dance has been particularly revealing. Most people within the NBA are familiar with most of the material, though some of the behind the scenes footage has been quite compelling.
I’m curious about the upcoming episodes, especially how the documentary deals with the ’98 Chicago – Indiana playoff series. In my 32 seasons, I believe that was the best team Indiana has had (and this is a franchise that has been to the Eastern Conference Finals eight times, and the NBA Finals once), and that series was one of the most – if not the most – difficult series the Bulls had during the championship runs.
One other thing comes to mind, though it’s not specifically about the documentary. The eight episodes so far have reinvigorated the debate as to whether Jordan is the greatest player in the history of the sport. In my opinion, Wilt Chamberlain is the best player ever, and I consider LeBron James to be the best player I’ve seen in person. What amazes me is not that there are differing views on this topic; rather, it’s so disappointing that a reasonable discussion is not the norm, and that the same vitriolic discord that has infected our political dialogue is in play in sports now, too. I will never understand why it’s necessary for someone to denigrate Player A as a means to elevate Player B.
Mike Breen (ESPN – National Voice of the NBA)
The Last Dance is magnificent. So compelling, so riveting. I love how that the younger generation, who never saw Michael Jordan play, is getting an in-depth look at his greatness on the court, and all the drama that surrounded it.
Kevin Calabro (Portland Tarilblazers – TV)
I’ve watched most of it. Found it informative raw and unfiltered. I love the emotion Jordan shows in his recounting of events. Also, the interviews with teammates, many of whom I know personally, really resonated with me. I’d heard most but not all of those stories. For example, to hear Jordan tell it, George Karl passed him by at a restaurant without saying hello before the finals. I was the play-by-play man of the Sonics at the time.
I can tell you I loved that attitude from Karl. He was a tough, aggressive, cocky coach. Our team had the same attributes. They won 64 that year, the Bulls 72.
I also thought the retelling of the James Jordan story was informative but tragic and the interviews with Jordan’s siblings really added a contextual layer to what made him tick.
Chris Carrino (Brooklyn Nets – Radio)
As a basketball fan, I’ve been compelled to watch The Last Dance, just as I was compelled to watch Michael Jordan play. What we miss without live sports is the communal nature of it, how it pulls people in for an urgent, shared experience. The Last Dance has filled that void when we needed it most.
Chuck Cooperstein (Dallas Mavericks – Radio)
The Good: The behind the scenes video. Finding Phil Jackson coaching in Puerto Rico was incredible, and the audio of Jordan wailing after winning the title in 96 was amazing. We had seen the video, but it becomes much more stark and dramatic when you hear it as well.The relationship Jordan had with his family. the competition he felt with his older brother, Larry, for his father’s affection, and indeed how his relationship with his father was portrayed. Obviously the access to Jordan which no one has had for 25 years. The enmity that exists (to this day) between the Bulls and Pistons was very well explained.
The Bad: As I am a linear story teller. I prefer to go from point A to point B. I don’t like the flashback approach that makes it look like a Tarantino movie. I would have preferred a diary approach to the 1997-98 season with occasional flashbacks for context. This was after all supposed to be about that season, and yet, there has been so little about the season.
The access to Jordan was great, the fact that he had final editorial control over the project was not. Perhaps that’s a reason why journalists like Peter Vecsey (NBC and NY Post) and Jack McCallum (Sports Illustrated) weren’t interviewed. They should have been. Justin Timberlake and President Obama didn’t need to be in it.No one presented the Jerry Krause case (even if Steve Kerr kind of did).
Really it’s two documentaries running on parallel tracks. Jordan is one. The rest of the supporting cast is another, and occasionally they meet in the middle.
Kevin Harlan (Turner)
What has struck me about the “Last Dance” has been the emotion displayed by Michael Jordan. I had always thought of Jordan as steely and so focused that emotion didn’t play a major role. I was wrong with that perception. His deep emotions and beliefs fueled him as much as his competitive drive.
The other element that comes across is how alike Jordan and Kobe Bryant were when they played and how they prepared. This confirms what I had always thought, but it is remarkable. I’ve never seen two all-time great athletes, in any sport, more similar in every way than Michael and Kobe. And finally, the portrait of Phil Jackson affirms the reason for his success as a NBA head coach. His communicative skills, his creative schemes and philosophies along with his deep sense of the moment and timing with his players are on display, front and center, as a testament in detail what made him so effective. Fascinating.
Gary Gerould (Sacramento Kings – Radio)
Count me among those who’ve found The Last Dance to be extraordinarily entertaining. I love how the production team has created a look at the humanness of Michael Jordan. You get the feeling that the veil has been pulled back and we’re being treated to rare glimpses of athletic royalty. I have always marveled at how great athletes find ways to motivate themselves over extended periods of time. The Last Dance has provided a close look at how MJ met and conquered that challenge. Terrific stuff!!
Steve Holman (Atlanta Hawks – Radio)
I’ve enjoyed the series very much so far. It definitely is being presented the way Michael wants it, so it’s not really a “tell-all.” It has been fun to reminisce about those days. The Hawks and Bulls had some great playoff battles during that time, and his last game as a Bull in Atlanta at the Dome was fun to watch again. And yes, in my mind Michael is the best.
Ralph Lawler (Los Angeles and San Diego Clippers – Retired, Radio and TV)
I have only seen a couple of episodes, but completely enjoyed what I saw. Michael was certainly the greatest player ever as of the time he retired.
Al McCoy (Phoenix Suns)
Michael lived in his own world and that was to win basketball games…The show itself, The Last Dance is well done!
Bob Rathbun (Atlanta Hawks TV)
Like millions of basketball fans everywhere, I have been mesmerized by The Last Dance. The behind-the-scenes footage, MJ’s personal recounting of events and his own leadership style, have all been riveting moments.
I covered MJ in college and the pros, so to see him, publicly, for the first time, express his personal feelings about what went on has been eye-opening. He’s now 57, and I’m sure a part of this for him is this. He’s starting to wrestle with his own mortality. And he’s been asked for the first time on a public stage, to talk about how he wants to be remembered. From a TV stand point, they might as well hand over the Emmys right now. The production, the story-telling, all of it, has been superb!
Tim Roye (Golden State Warriors – Radio)
The show reflects how difficult it is to keep their core intact over a period of time. It’s almost jarring to go back in time and to see how physical the play was and how different it is from the game we see today. It’s a well constructed documentary as they searched out so many of the people involved which provides perspective and balance. Personally, the series is eerily similar in tone to what the Warriors went through in a five year run of getting to the NBA Finals, from the attention of the press, the strain it puts on relationships and the grind of the NBA schedule and the playoffs. The Last Dance has been a great distraction in these uncertain times.
David Steele (Orlando Magic – TV)
The Last Dance has been terrific. Having spoken with a number of Jordan’s ex-teammates I had heard stories of his extreme competitive nature, but some of the information regarding his “will to win” coming out of the documentary has been an eye opener even for me.
Behind the scenes footage of MJ with teammates/coaches are generally my favorite segments in the show.
My only criticism would be that at times the flow of the show seems a bit uneven, and occasionally an interviewee is not identified with a chyron, but overall the “Last Dance” has outperformed even my lofty expectations.
Chuck Swirsky (Chicago Bulls – Radio)
The Last Dance has been revealing, raw and transparent, and a study of Michael Jordan’s insatiable passion to not just win, but to conquer.
In any great story, the lead character undergoes a transformation, in this case Jordan’s personality and athleticism reached a pinnacle never seen before in professional sports. He is the greatest individual player in team sport history.
What did I learn? His perfectionism and expectations extended to his teammates and to himself. If you weren’t “ all-in” as a teammate of Jordan’s , you were “ all out.”
I appreciated Scottie Pippen’s honesty. It took courage on his part to be as open as he was. It made the documentary that much more real. He refused to enter a game with 1.8 seconds left after Phil Jackson called a play for Toni Kukoc. Pippen to this day is reminded of that moment. Yet, 26 years later, Pippen said he would do it again.
General Manager Jerry Krause was a polarizing figure. Unfortunately with his passing, we were never allowed to hear his reflections, especially on key figures such as Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman. It was very apparent that while Krause did bring a lot on himself regarding his handling of players, people skills, coaches, etc. the powerful push back from Phil Jackson, Jordan and Pippen made the dynamics toxic, yet here we are talking about six titles in eight seasons.
What a few other critics said:
“I think it will take at least a passing interest in the NBA, or in Jordan, to find this series fully satisfying. But for people who wonder whether we’ll ever see sports dynasties again, there’s a great deal here to enjoy. And if nothing else, you will certainly see some tremendous dunks.”
-Linda Holmes, NPR
“The Last Dance fills that void, transporting viewers back to the off-court drama, flamboyant personalities and great basketball associated with Michael Jordan and the six-time champion Chicago Bulls. At 10 parts, it’s a very, very deep dive, but for fans who will eat this stuff up, it hits all the right notes.” And “if it’s not the same thrill as a live buzzer-beater for basketball fans, it’s the next best dance partner one could hope to find.”
-Brian Lowry, CNN
“It’s a sprawling, detailed dose of ’90s nostalgia that scratches itches for both feats of athletic greatness and high drama. That is to say, even if you’re not obsessed with basketball, you’ll probably find something to love in here.”
-Esther Zuckerman, Thrillist
“It is a very flawed product. So far, it hasn’t been worth the gargantuan hype that has accompanied it.”
-Dave Zirin, The Nation
“If I had 3 wishes in Life. I think I would have asked for The Last Dance”
-Dwayne Wade via Twitter
“Damn near had be me tearing up”
“Beautifully composed and edited together, the program serves as religious text for those who still exalt at the shrine of his Airness.
“A pulsating celebration of greatness”
-Robert Daniels, Consequence of Sound
“Even a commercial for The Last Dance was better than anything we’ve seen on TV in weeks.”
“Each episode left me wanting more. Not only were the Bulls a team for the ages, they also gave us a sports soap opera for the ages.”
-Chicago Sun Times