Let’s get a quick review done of the first two parts of The Last Dance Documentary, parts 1 and 2, before parts 3 and 4 air on ESPN tonight at 9pm.
For anyone living under a boulder, The Last Dance is a 10 hour, 10 part, documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls.
It is right up there with another ESPN 30 for 30 documentary O.J.: Made in America for most anticipated sports documentary of all-time.
The OJ doc won an Oscar and has a 100% approval rating along with a 97% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also has a 96 score on Metacritic based on 21 critic reviews.
The point is, The Last Dance has big shoes to fill if it is going to be considered the best ESPN sports documentary, let alone best sports documentary in general.
With that context let’s get into my review on the first two parts of the documentary, which aired last Sunday night.
The first two episodes did a lot of context scene-setting which makes sense.
We get a look into both Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s upbringings and those moments were cool.
The fact that Jordan was always fighting with his older brother Larry both physically and for their father James’ attention and affection, battles which Larry seemed to win more often than not, gave us a window into why Jordan became such a ferocious competitor.
Seeing some of the tragedies that occurred in Pippen’s childhood, his father’s stroke and subsequent paralysis, the wrestling accident which left Scottie’s brother Ronnie paralyzed, and the general poverty that he grew up in, gave us a clearer picture of why Pippen went on to prioritize long-term security with contracts early in his NBA career rather than maximizing his earnings potential.
We didn’t get a look into Phil Jackson, Dennis Rodman, or Jerry Krause’s upbringings, other than an off-hand remark from an interviewee about how Krause was always the short and fat kid with something to prove.
Episode 3 is apparently heavily focused on Rodman so perhaps we will get more of a look into how he became who he is.
Of course the 30 for 30 For Better or Worse, released this past September, which was focused entirely on the life and career of Rodman gives you a full picture of the man, but it’s not like The Last Dance director Jason Hehir can rely on people having watched that beforehand.
Another main talking point from episodes 1 and 2 was the depiction of then Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause.
It is hard to have a compelling film without a villain and for The Last Dance it is clear that Krause has been thrust into that role.
Jerry Reinsdorf was the owner of the Chicago White Sox already by the time he bough the Bulls and when he did Krause, who was a White Sox scout at the time, called Reinsdorf and asked to be the general manager for the Bulls.
He got the job but not before, as Reinsdorf mentions in The Last Dance, the new Bulls owner got multiple calls from a variety of people telling him to steer clear of Krause.
Regardless Krause was named GM and by all accounts did a great job building the team. From drafting Jordan, naming Phil Jackson head coach, trading for Pippen on draft day, drafting Horace Grant, and trading for Dennis Rodman it is clear that Krause did an amazing job building the Bulls championship rosters.
It is no wonder that Krause was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
What Krause was not good at, as the documentary show us, was getting along with anyone besides Reinsdorf.
Jackson hated Krause and Jordan hated Krause and Rodman hated Krause and it seemed like the rest of the players disliked Krause as well.
Earlier this week Steve Kerr was on Zach Lowe’s podcast The Lowe Post and remarked that Krause had a way of getting onto everyone’s bad side.
That being said, it seemed a little weird how poorly Krause was being portrayed.
For starters, Krause died in 2017 so he’s not around to defend himself, and I got the vibe that Reinsdorf was happy to throw his former GM under the bus.
Maybe that is unfair but it takes two to tango and the owner of a sports team has final authority.
If Reinsdorf didn’t want Pippen to be traded, or let go after the 1998 season, why didn’t he act on that?
If Reinsdorf wanted Phil Jackson signed to a long-term deal, why didn’t he mandate that Krause get that done?
If Reinsdorf didn’t want Jordan gone after the 1998 season, why didn’t he have a sit-down with Krause and Jordan to map out a plan for the franchise going forward?
To me it seemed like The Last Dance was a little too eager to paint an easy target in Krause, the guy does look like The Penguin from Batman to be fair, as the villain while Reinsdorf got to skate by with his reputation largely unscathed.
Wouldn’t it have been easy to ask Reinsdorf, who was interviewed for the documentary, “Why were you letting Krause act this way?”
In a similar vein Pippen was made to be a sympathetic figure, due to a contract he signed after the 1991 season, which added 5 years onto the 2 years remaining on his rookie deal.
Scottie found himself severely underpaid in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, and wanted to renegotiate his contract.
I just didn’t buy the whole “woe is Socttie” narrative. He made over 100 million dollars during his career. He’ll be ok.
In fairness, it was good context as to why Scottie demanded a trade during the 1998 season after delaying foot surgery until after the season started, but what were Krause and Reinsdorf supposed to do?
Give Scottie a raise because he was outperforming his contract? When has that ever happened in sports history?
Both Pippen’s agent and, if he’s to be believed, Reinsdorf himself advised Pippen against signing the contract and he insisted.
It was interesting that Jordan called Scottie “selfish” during the documentary in regards to delaying surgery and his trade demand, while Jackson said that he didn’t mind Pippen’s behavior.
I get the sense that Jordan and Pippen aren’t on great terms.
People online made a big to-do about Michael sayingthat Pippen was his best teammate ever and that the Bulls don’t win their championships without Pippen.
All I could think was, “Uhhhhhh …. No shit?”
That is the bare minimum “compliment” that Jordan can pay Pippen and it doesn’t seem like he’s interested in going beyond that.
I remember a couple times over the past few Pippen going back and forth about maybe LeBron is better than Jordan maybe not, which speaks to the tensions that still seems to exist between the two of them.
The first 2 episodes didn’t blow me away but I didn’t really expect them to.
How can you blow people away in the first couple of episodes when you have to set the foundation for the rest of the documentary?
At certain points the timeline and sequencing of the episodes was a little disorienting and it was hard to tell what year the scenes we were watching were set in.
Going forward I want to see more behind-the-scenes footage of how Jordan treated his teammates and maybe some backstory of Jackson’s coaching philosophy and how it came to be.
Overall I give the first 2 episodes of ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary a solid B+.
Looking forward to Episodes 3 and 4 tonight!