'The Last Dance' writers' roundtable: Michael Jordan and the end of an era
The Yahoo Sports NBA staff watched the final episodes of “The Last Dance” like the rest of you, and here are their responses to a few burning questions.
Who deserved to play a bigger role in the series?
Vincent Goodwill: It’s hard to say who deserves to play a bigger role, considering it was a 10-part documentary. We have to understand this was an ESPN, NBA and Michael Jordan production. Wanting to probe deeper on Jordan himself wouldn’t have been possible given the major players involved.
If you want to see the warts, this wasn’t going to be the place for it. Even seeing a vulgar Jordan wasn’t as bad as expected, even though it was more than I first believed Jordan would allow.
Seeing more from Doug Collins, who helped cultivate a younger Jordan before Phil Jackson took over, could’ve been cool. But Scottie Pippen didn’t strike me as more compelling than what he was shown to be.
We’d love more Dennis Rodman footage, but that would only play into our views of his wild life more than presenting more layers to his character.
Jordan as a father? We saw what he thought about his children at his Hall of Fame induction, so getting behind the expectations he did or didn’t place on them wouldn’t have been welcomed. But we aren’t owed that, and such an intimate view often leads us to believe we deserve more than given.
As a piece of entertainment and promotion more than a documentary, what we were fed was just fine.
Chris Haynes: Good question. His first wife — Juanita — and his kids, who made a minuscule appearance in the final episode, should have been included more. Gathering insight from his wife and kids on how they dealt with all that came with MJ and how their lives were affected would have added totality in the storytelling. I understand this project was pretty much ran by MJ, so there were restrictions that independent projects don’t encounter. It couldn’t have been easy being Jordan’s close family members. Their stories were missing.
Seerat Sohi: Ron Harper certainly stands out. He was a former star turned sixth man for the Bulls. The guard signed with Chicago during Jordan’s first retirement, and when Jordan returned, Harper knew he would have to re-invent himself as a defensive specialist and give up shots. He did so without obstruction or ceremony, becoming an example for the rest of the team, which was being asked to do the same thing.
Harper was also cordial and communicative, and his experience of sublimating his own role helped him relate to and connect with Pippen and Toni Kukoc. The latter was a superstar in Europe but a pawn in Chicago, while Pippen resented the disparity between his contributions and his paycheck. Harper was the connective tissue that kept the wanderers at bay, lessening the tension that defined the 1997-98 Bulls.
Do you wish the Bulls would have gotten the chance to compete for a
Goodwill: I have mixed feelings about that. Our NBA obsession with perfection has led to unfair scrutiny at times relative to other greats post-merger. Larry Bird’s greatness isn’t lessened because he lost twice, Magic Johnson’s position isn’t challenged because he went 5-4 in the Finals but we’ve made Michael unassailable. The Bulls wouldn’t have won another title even if they had returned.
But for Jordan, the mystique is probably better than the reality as time has gone on. He can lord over any young player who comes along and hold “perfection” over his head. The Bulls dominated an era that they should’ve, with no great equal to push or challenge them. Perhaps if the Shaq-led Lakers were ready a bit earlier, we could have had a true passing of the torch.
I’m confident in saying Jordan’s perfect record means more to us than it even does to him. So the perfect ending was the one the Bulls authored. No need to challenge it.
Haynes: Not really. It was a fitting way to go out, especially for Jordan. His last bucket as a Bull is an iconic moment. Jordan’s supporting cast was aging and their skills were deteriorating, along with Scottie Pippen’s health. Pippen was never the same player again. Had they made a run at a seventh title, it would have likely been one of their toughest roads to travel. But had the Bulls advanced to the Finals, I like their chances against the San Antonio Spurs squad that took the title during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
Sohi: No question.
Listen, the Bulls would have faced a ton of compounding factors on their way to a seventh title. Nobody could have the faith that Jordan did. Like he said, “It started with hope.” I found myself resonating with his feeling that not getting a chance to defend their title didn’t sit right.
The fact that they were at the end of the road was plain and clear, not just because Jerry Krause and his talent were in a standoff. Jackson was angling for a break, and owner Jerry Reinsdorf — as he acknowledges in the final episode of “The Last Dance” — had no interest in paying for a seventh run. But we don’t know if the Bulls would have flamed out. They deserved a chance to find out if they’d burned all their fuel.
For fans, the question is not whether the Bulls would have won. The world watched them rise but never witnessed their fall. The Bulls, brimming with fascinating characters, provided revelations in the face of victory. I can’t imagine what losing would have brought out of them, the way it would have fired up Jordan.
I’ll bet on this: If the Bulls made a run for a seventh title and failed, Jordan would have signed up for another season.
Did you like the series and did it affect or alter your views about MJ and the Bulls?
Goodwill: It shows Jordan to be everything we thought he was through his silence over the years. The Harvey Gantt situation. Being an unrelenting leader. Not giving credit to any team other than his own. Even Kevin McHale called the Bulls a bunch of whiners, and the show didn’t change that.
But there was another side of Jordan that we got a glimpse of, even if it was fleeting. His relationship with his father, and the way he accepted the murky circumstances around James Jordan’s death. His bond with security guard Gus Lett and paying enough attention to him that he knew something was off with Lett show an attentiveness and genuine care we rarely get to see.
Jordan suffered some real personal losses in his life. We didn’t know how it truly affected him except that the people who got really close to him … eventually left him. He was no robot. He was someone with human connections and when he felt things, it was like everything in his life — extreme with no filter.
Those wails in the locker room after winning it all in 1996 meant something, and it probably wasn’t the only time that occurred.
But as a player? He was as authentic as anyone and his greatness has not been exaggerated.
Haynes: Overall, the series was fine. I appreciated getting to hear MJ unleash a plethora of expletives. He was such a private figure that we never witnessed this side of him before. I knew he was ultra-competitive, and I used to hear stories from people who played with him about how he used to manufacture beefs in his head to ignite his fire. But I didn’t know it was to the point of often petty extremes. My view of him doesn’t change because of the doc. Much of it I knew already.
Sohi: I thought the documentary was beautiful and I felt myself longing for more of its elusive footage — the interactions shared by superstars, specifically — but it was very much a story authorized by Jordan and the NBA.
Ironically, the obviousness of Jordan’s influence makes the documentary more revelatory than it likely intended to be. We got the inside track on what Jordan would like us to know, how the greatest basketball player of all time would edit his own story: that none of the opponents who defended him stood a chance, be it Bryon Russell or Gary Payton, that no one ever really challenged the Bulls — maybe he needs to believe that to be great. That Steve Kerr and Scott Burrell were more important than Kukoc and Harper. That Jerry Krause was the worst and Phil Jackson was the best. That his security guard was integral to his story but his ex-wife wasn’t. That he never pushed off Russell before taking his final shot as a member of the Bulls, which — he’d like you to believe — was the last NBA team he ever played for.
In the end, I learned a ton about Michael Jordan.
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