First impressions of The Last Dance
One of the few positives to come out of the coronavirus caused lockdown, stay at home orders and life-altering disruption has been the early release of the ESPN produced ‘The Last Dance’ documentary. This docuseries is focused on the final title-winning season of the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls. With the first two episodes of a ten-part series having dropped early on Monday morning here on the African continent I devoured them with ferocity, and man were they good. Jordan has become a somewhat mythical figure in sporting circles, a larger than life personality who transcended the sport of basketball to elevate the NBA into the global stratosphere. He was the Bulls, he was Chicago, he was America, he was Basketball, the Bulls were basketball. Since his retirement and a for a while just before it, there had been a void that needed to be filled by fans who asked 'who had next?' Who was the next Jordan, who could come into the game and change the landscape or perhaps carry on the Jordan legacy? There have been so many players touted as the second coming, like Alan Iverson, Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady even Derrick Rose and of course LeBron James and so on and so forth. Some have done some amazing things, whilst others have not lived up to the early hype. But one thing is for sure, the world is still obsessed with Michael Jordan and those 90s Bulls. The Last Dance fuels that love at a time when there is no live basketball or sport of any type taking place. Time allows people to start looking at the brand-new players as the best they’ve ever seen and the numbers and records that have been surpassed and broken, but there is something to be said for sheer gravity and influence. LeBron James is probably the closest that the world has come to having another Jordan on the court. Yes, the Kobe Bryant fans, will exclaim that the ‘Black Mamba’ was the nearest Jordan equivalent, but it is all just subjective bias and personal opinion. Hence the never-ending discussion about who the greatest of all time is. Bring in the ‘eye’ test, who looks better on court, bring up the record-breaking feats, talk about the stature amongst their peers and there is nothing to differentiate Jordan from Kobe or LeBron. Importantly they should all be honoured and praised for who they are and what they’ve achieved. Having said that, there’s still that something extra, that magic that Air Jordan had about him. ‘His Airness’ was the pinnacle of success and still is.
The first two episodes of The Last Dance have showed me a lot and there is so much to digest. For now here are some of my first impressions of the series so far: 1. Right off the bat, it doesn’t matter how many years have passed since those Bulls glory years, they still hold up as the watermark for exciting dominance. Other teams might have won more titles in a row, or garnered more team acclaim, but watching MJ, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Bill Paxton, Horace Grant et al. was a thing of beauty. 2. The off the court drama didn’t knock them on court as they chased even more glory. It clearly wasn’t easy and but we know how the season ends, it’s not news, but the spectacle of it all. Every player had the right to feel like they’d done it all and could take their foot off the gas but with Jordan driving them they couldn’t take a break. 3. It is amazing to see these legends again in their pomp. There is nothing like seeing them play their hearts out at a time when the game was still very rough and tumble. Pippen was a beast, Rodman was unstoppable under the boards and on defence. They all played so hard. 4. Age has touched all of our heroes and seeing them reminisce as we juxtapose the present-day older men with their fitter, more athletic younger selves is hard to see. It only makes it feel like we need to appreciate them more while we still have them. 5. I love basketball and I miss it so much during this insane coronavirus pandemic. As the docuseries wears on and we see more of the behind the scenes drama unfold we will understand even more the power of very good storytelling. So much has been said and done about this period of the NBA that it could have felt like a retread of a bygone era. We know how it all ends, yet we the viewer are hooked. We can’t get enough of the stories and the characters. This feels fresh, it feels relevant and it has brought that golden generation back to the forefront of our consciousness, as a whole new generation of fans get to see the players that made so many of us dream. Let’s keep on dancing.