Ironically, the focus was not in NBA Jam.
The Last Dance uses a bunch of previously unaired footage from the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls team in order to tell the story of the last year that Michael Jordan would play for the Chicago Bulls and the last year that Phil Jackson would coach for them. The series conducts a huge number of interviews ranging from sportswriters to players to former US Presidents all in order to successfully convey the incredible scope of the events of the Bulls completing a second threepeat. Episodes focus on several of the players and coaches and what was happening as the season unfolded, but, let’s be honest, it’s mostly about Michael Jordan and trying to explain to people who weren’t alive in 1998 exactly how huge that man was to the game of Basketball and the Chicago Bulls in particular.
I was a little bit intimidated by the length of this miniseries, because 500 minutes worth of documentary is a lot. However, the more I watched, the more it became apparent that you just cannot give this story its due unless you’re willing to spend hours going into the backstory of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Phil Jackson. In the context of the 1998 season, these weren’t just men, these were icons.
Part of it is that they emphasize how big of a change Michael Jordan was for the Bulls, and the NBA. Prior to his arrival, the Bulls not only weren’t title contenders, but were so bad that the team owners were looking to sell it to literally anyone. The 1983-84 team won less than one in every three games. They’d only made the playoffs in three of the last ten years at that point. Michael Jordan’s arrival, in the series, is basically portrayed as giving life to a dead team, and, given that they made the playoffs every year he was on the team, that’s probably not inaccurate. As is natural for a documentary like this, they do spend some time dedicated to building up a few of the more legendary feats in Jordan’s career, including his record-setting 63 point game against the 1985-86 Larry Bird Celtics (a strong contender for the best team ever to play the game) and the first championship against the Magic Johnson Lakers. By framing everything just right, The Last Dance magnifies a good sports anecdote into a modern Greek Myth, complete with nearly inhuman athletic achievements. Of course, since Larry Bird claimed of the game, “I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan,” it probably never could be anything less than mythic.
It helps that the 1997-98 season had the Bulls as underdogs at the beginning, starting the season off 9-7 and without Scottie Pippen, due to an injury. Somehow, the team managed to hold on and even start to turn it around with a heck of a win streak, leading to their sixth and final championship.
I admit that I might be a bit biased in favor of this documentary, because in the 1990s, when I was growing up, the Bulls were essentially the team. Not in the NBA, not in basketball, but really just in US sports. I mean, we had the Braves pitching lineup, but people born in the late 80s weren’t that interested in baseball, because NBA Jam was fun and Roger Clemens’ MVP Baseball was not. I wish I could say it was something bigger than that, but… I mean, honestly, arcades were big in the early ‘90s and four player NBA Jam Tournament Edition was up there with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time in terms of wait times. Even if you couldn’t play as Jordan, you could still play as Pippen and Horace Grant and feel like you were part of that 90s domination.
Overall, if you were a kid in the 90s, you can’t NOT watch this. If you were alive in the 90s, you need to see it. If you ever liked Basketball, you should take the time to watch it, and if you didn’t, then you might like it anyway.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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