ESPN’s latest documentary, The Last Dance, is a ten-part documentary series chronicling the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls and their journey to their sixth championship. The Bulls gave the documentary team unprecedented coverage, giving us a truly immersive experience into what one of the greatest teams the NBA has ever had went through during their final season.
ESPN just aired the fifth episode of the ten-part documentary series. Here is a recap and review of Episode Five of The Last Dance.
Episode V is the best episode yet of The Last Dance. It was the tightest and most focused of the episodes and offered up the most behind-the-scenes footage. It also gave us more insight to the competitor that Michael Jordan was and gave us more insight into who he was as person, something the series had yet to show.
The episode starts with a dedication to the late Kobe Bryant, who died tragically in a helicopter crash this past January. Kobe idolized Michael Jordan and had been declared by many as the second coming of Jordan. The opening shows us the 1998 NBA All-Star Game, where Jordan and Kobe would go head-to-head. We see footage of Jordan talking about Kobe and they type of player he was, which was similar to himself. We also get a brief interview of Kobe talking about the influence Jordan had on him as a player and a person, calling him his “big brother”. It was a touching tribute to Kobe and represented Jordan giving one last shoutout to his little brother.
After the ’98 All-Star Game, where Jordan took M.V.P. honors, we dive into the beginning of Jordan-mania. Jordan is about to suit up for his last game at Madison Square Garden in New York, his favorite arena to play. For this momentous occasion, Jordan wore his original Air Jordan 1’s for the game, the same shoe he wore for this first game at the Garden. We then go back to 1984 where Air Jordan became a brand. As someone with a fascination with sneakers, sneaker culture, and owns a few pair of retro Jordan’s, this was an amazing watch. Learning that Nike wasn’t Jordan’s first choice was something I did not know until this episode. Converse was the official shoe of the NBA and Jordan was more of an Adidas guy himself at the time and had to be forced to go to the meeting with Nike by his parents. The rest is history and Air Jordan’s became not only a signature basketball shoe, but became a lifestyle. They were a symbol of class and a cultural relevance. This was just the beginning of Jordan-mania.
We then jump to the 1992 NBA Finals, where the Chicago Bulls played the Portland Trailblazers and were looking to repeat as champions. On Portland was shooting guard Clyde Drexler, a player many people compared to Michael Jordan as being one of the best in the game. Though Jordan respected Drexler as a player, he took offense to being compared to him, which only showed just how competitive Jordan was and how he always wanted to be the best. Jordan went out to prove just how much better he was than Drexler, attacking him every night and showing the world that he was the best player in the world. The Bulls won the series in six games.
Immediately after the ’92 Finals came the ’92 Olympics, where Jordan and teammate Scotty Pippen joined up with some of the other great players in the NBA to play on the U.S.A. Team, also known as the Dream Team. There was some controversy around the Dream Team roster, however, as Detroit Pistons guard Isiah Thomas was left off the roster, even though he was undoubtedly one of the best players in the NBA. Rumors swirled that Jordan had something to do with Thomas not being on the team, but Jordan denied that, saying he respected Thomas as a player and that after Magic Johnson, Thomas was the best point guard he ever player against. But Thomas made a few enemies beyond Jordan in the NBA, some of which were also on the Dream Team, which might have hurt the strong comradery the Dream Team had, something Jordan says was the best part about being on that team. The episode then talks about the legendary scrimmage practice, in which the Dream Team went 5-on-5 in a closed-doors practice that every player involved considered the best basketball any of them had ever played. It was a legendary game that nobody but the players and coaches saw, but one any basketball fan would pay a lot of money to watch.
After winning the gold medal at the Olympics, Michael Jordan became the biggest name on the planet. His shoes were flying off the shelves, he was on billboards and in commercials, and the “Be Like Mike” mantra began. Every game Jordan played was sold out. In a game in Atlanta, a 62,000-seat stadium sold-out because people wanted to see Jordan, thinking it could possibly be the last time they ever see him play. But with the spotlight constantly on him, there was a pressure about being a social figure and having a voice in social and political issues, something Jordan wanted nothing to do with. There was major Senate race in North Carolina in 1990 between Republican Jesse Helms, a known racist, and Democrat Harvey Gantt, who was looking to be the first black Senator of the state. People expected Jordan to support Gantt and though he did, he wouldn’t do it publicly, something that didn’t sit right with a lot of people. Jordan came under fire even further when he was quoted saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too” which made it seem like his own personal wealth was the most important thing to him. To this day, Jordan doesn’t get into political or social issues.
But even with this backlash, Jordan was still the most popular basketball player and the biggest celebrity on Earth. Other celebrities would flock to his games and fans would go crazy if they saw him, even if for a fleeting moment. As one Bulls media member put it, “This is what you’d call a Pope and Jesus phenomenon.”
Episode V was everything I wanted this documentary series to be. There was a ton of footage, it was focused, and it gave us more insight into Michael Jordan as a person and his competitive mindset. It was easily the best episode of the series so far.
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