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'The Last Dance' On ESPN Follows The Swan Song Of Michael Jordan's Bulls


Sports fans starved for content rejoice. ESPN, on Sunday, debuts "The Last Dance," a docuseries on basketball superstar Michael Jordan's last championship with the Chicago Bulls. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has this review.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: From the beginning, "The Last Dance" leaves no doubt who is the star of this particular show. The camera almost stalks Michael Jordan in an early shot, circling his massive frame as the man sits pensively, holding a huge cigar. The 10-part documentary series unfolds like this camera shot - an admiring, close-up look at a megastar who's racked up six NBA championships, numerous scoring and MVP titles and a personal fortune in the billions. Sports writer Michael Wilbon sums it up pretty well.


MICHAEL WILBON: I mean, at that point, Michael Jordan's already the ultimate sports alpha male. I mean, the only comparisons I can recall being apt were to Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali. That's it. That's the list. There's nobody else on it.

DEGGANS: Michael Jordan's extensive interviews, along with the inclusion of previously unseen intimate footage of the team during their final championship season in 1997 and 1998, creates an incisive look at a pivotal moment for Jordan and the NBA. Bulls coach Phil Jackson called that season the last dance because Bulls management would restructure the team next season. Jordan was the spark plug, racking up massive point totals and insulting teammates he felt weren't working hard enough during practice.


MICHAEL JORDAN: My mentality was to go out and win at any cost. If you don't want to live that regimented mentality, then you don't need to be alongside of me because I'm going to ridicule you until you get on the same level with me. And if you don't get on the same level, then it's going to be hell for you.

DEGGANS: Sports fans going through withdrawal because of coronavirus lockdowns will see loads of action, including Jordan's eye-popping acrobatics


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS COMMENTATOR: Michael Jordan with 30 points - and the Chicago Bulls have won their first-ever NBA Championship.

DEGGANS: The fifth episode is dedicated to the memory of Kobe Bryant, who speaks on how Jordan was a mentor. And a certain former president details living in Chicago when Jordan joined the Bulls in 1984.


BARACK OBAMA: Suddenly, you have a sports figure that puts Chicago on the map and that everybody was able to rally around.

DEGGANS: Still, despite appearances by politicians like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the docuseries is not like ESPN's Oscar-winning OJ Simpson film "Made In America," which used sports as a gateway to discussions about race, politics and society. "The Last Dance" focuses mostly on sports, using interviews with over 100 subjects to paint a portrait of standout teammates, like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, and Jordan himself who sometimes struggled with the spotlight.


JORDAN: It's funny. A lot of people say they'd like to be Michael Jordan for a day or for a week. But let him try to be Michael Jordan for a year and see if they like it.

DEGGANS: The series jumps around a lot in time, leapfrogging from star players' personal histories to key games and contemporary interviews in a way that can be confusing. And the lack of commentary on the wider society feels like a missed opportunity. But "The Last Dance" offers the best and most intimate look at how Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominated the sports world in the 1990s, revealing the challenges and tribulations Jordan navigated to become one of the most successful athletes in sports history.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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