“Here comes Chicago, 17 seconds from Game 7 or from championship number six… Jordan, open… (swish) Chicago with the lead! If that’s the last image of Michael Jordan, how magnificent is it?” —Bob Costas, NBC Sports, 1998 NBA Finals
During the last week of March, ESPN, Netflix, and 30-for-30 gave us all a gift during these socially distant, uncertain times: they announced the early release of their long-awaited partnership, a 10-part documentary The Last Dance on the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls championship team.
Originally slated for release in June after the completion of the NBA Finals, the series is now starting on April 19, or what would have been the first day of the NBA playoffs in normal times. This documentary is highly anticipated for many reasons, but most of all for Michael Jordan’s participation in the doc. The global phenomenon of Jordan and those Bulls teams was also fueled by the fact that Jordan — love him or hate him as a player — was a fiery locker room presence, never knowing when to stop pushing or turn his competitive side off. In short, he was a hero to many (including me) on the court, but could be a villain in real-life.
In February of 1998, my parents had surprised my sister and me. It was a typical school day before my mom showed up and knocked on my classroom door. She told my sixth grade teacher that we had a family emergency (sorry, Mrs. Cramer!), pulled us out of class, plopped us in the mini-van, and said, “Just kidding. We’re going to Chicago tonight to watch Michael Jordan play.” She had our MJ jerseys ready to go. Cue my mind exploding. “What time is it? Game time, whoo!”
There is something to be said for watching someone excel so perfectly at their craft. Whether it be an artist, a writer, teacher, or athlete, I find it compelling and beautiful to watch. I saw it in person in sixth grade at the United Center, which was such a gift from my parents: they knew watching the best basketball player in history (don’t @ me, LeBron stans) practice his craft was a lifetime experience for their girls. The beauty of the performance was a gift Michael Jordan was giving us all. I have a hunch that my parents saw the headlines about Jordan’s personality, but didn’t dare to ruin it for us. They were protecting us from whatever questionable behavior our hero could’ve been up to.
As any parent would tell you, fostering your kids’ interests and trying to make their dreams come true is such a huge part of parenthood. You want to give your children the world, and bonus points for you if that includes an interest you share. For my family, that is basketball.
So in this COVID-19 pandemic, when our family started sheltering in place in our respective locations, we started chattering on night one: I really hope they move up the Bulls 30-for-30. What a moment for ESPN to capitalize on — and for us all to watch together.
Will this documentary be compelling, perhaps bordering on salacious? Perhaps. There were so many big personalities on that Bulls team, and each one will have their side of the story to tell. The doc includes commentary from U.S. Presidents, ex-wives, and NBA rivals. But there will also be beauty: the drive to win, the passion for excellence. And I can’t wait to see it again — that riveting beautiful craft and drive from my childhood re-emerging in my present, giving me the ability to connect with my family and share the joy basketball brings.