SALT LAKE CITY – “The Last Dance” wrapped two months ago. Somehow, it seems much longer.
If you haven’t set up your DVRs then, the chance to review “The Last Dance” is almost here. The 10-part documentary series about Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls, broadcast for the first time on ESPN, is available on Netflix starting Sunday, July 19.
Deseret News reporter Jody Genessy and I covered the series every weekend when her episodes first aired. Looking at my notes from those five weeks, I’m getting excited. Even though I’m not ready to review the whole series yet, I will definitely review these nine specific moments.
College MJ, meeting the backboard (episode 1)
Bull age Jordan dominates our collective consciousness. It’s easy to overlook his college years. Episode 1 is a great reminder, though. He has some inspiring, sometimes amazing, footage of Tar Heel Jordan – including him hitting his head against the board as he soars for a block. Air Jordan really.
Getting hazy on mom (episode 1)
Yes, it was fascinating the audience in college, but Jordan was still a poor college student at the time. In episode 1, Jordan’s mom, Deloris, reads a letter that Michael sent her during her first year, asking her to send some money (for what I don’t remember; maybe the shopping?). The director of the documentary, Jason Hehir, showed Michael the video of Deloris reading his old letter. And Michael gets a little choked.
Pippen’s origin story (episode 2)
Scottie Pippen has been through a lot – like, really a lot – in his childhood. He was the youngest of 12 children and grew poor in rural Arkansas. His father had a stroke when Pippen was still a child and Pippen’s older brother was paralyzed not long after. Episode 2 did a great job of telling the story of Pippen’s origins, which was really one obstacle after another.
Jordan messed up the pointer fingers (episode 3)
I thought about this part more than almost everyone else from “The Last Dance”. (This says more about me than about “The Last Dance”, but I’m digressing.) In a very short moment from episode 3, Jordan twists his fingers in a really bizarre way while being interviewed. Your fingers shouldn’t bend like your fingers do here. It only happens for a split second, but it’s unmistakably strange. Excited to see him in slow motion.
The Triangle Offense, animated (episode 4)
Tex Winter, the former assistant coach of the Bulls who pioneered the famous Triangle Offense, gets some brilliance in “The Last Dance”. (Phil Jackson is obsessed with the Triangle.) I had previously read the explanations of the Triangle – basically it is an offense to highly evolved movement – but “The Last Dance” offers the Triangle its best tutorial ever. Using footage from an old Bull game, in which a bird’s-eye camera is positioned above the top of the key, “The Last Dance” overlaps with an animation from the Triangle Offense. Watching its triangular formations expand, contract and rotate like an ever changing network was fascinating.
Jerry Seinfeld: the boyfriend of X and O? (Episode 5)
Jerry Seinfeld was among the greatest cultural titans of the 90s, but he was also intimidated by Phil Jackson. While Seinfeld chats Jordan in the Bulls locker room before a game, Jackson barks at Seinfeld to leave. A security guard accompanies Seinfeld, and as the comedian passes a blackboard with a pile of drawn games, he points to one and makes a joke, “It will never work.”
Jordan doesn’t convince anyone of his gambling (episode 6)
Jordan had a lot of criticism – most of it is undeserved – for visiting Atlantic City in the 1993 Eastern Conference finals. That said, the way he publicly dealt with the problem was a great comedy moment. Jordan had his friend, sports journalist Ahmad Rashād, to interview him. In itself, it’s not a bad plan! Solve the problem head-on. But Jordan wore sunglasses for the entire interview. I have no idea if Jordan was a gambling addict, but wearing sunglasses while saying things like “I don’t have a gambling problem, I have a competition problem” is, exactly, something that would make a addict.
The hiccups (episode 8)
Jordan’s footage on the dressing room floor, crying while holding a basketball after winning the 1996 NBA finals, is not new. But the audio was. Until “The Last Dance”, most of us hadn’t listened to the audio since then. It was Jordan’s first championship without his father, James, who was assassinated in 1993. Listening to Jordan here, and his hissing sobs full of real mourning, brought the power of that moment in stark relief.
The ridiculous theory of “poisoned pizza” (episode 9)
Jordan’s famous “flu game” was not lacking in knowledge. And “The Last Dance” has given us even more. Jordan and his entourage presented a ridiculous theory here that pizza was delivered to their hotel room the night before the 1997 NBA Finals Game 5 was intentionally poisoned. Now, I wouldn’t pass him in front of an idiot Utah Jazz fan to poison pizza – and Jordan getting normal and normal food poisoning is possible – but Jordan’s insistence that she was intentionally poisoned ignores some facts key – that is, he ate all the pizza himself, and he did it really late at night. If you are eating a pizza with full delivery at 2 am, you will feel bad the next morning. Even if you are the GOAT.