"They can't win till we quit."
I've never been much of a sports fan, however recently I've taken some interest in basketball and the NBA in particular. So, when Netflix announced NBA documentary The Last Dance, I thought I'd give it a watch, and try to better initiate myself as a rookie fan of the NBA. What I was met with was perhaps one of the best documentaries I've ever had the pleasure of viewing.
Netflix's The Last Dance, does everything a good documentary should and more; it's informative, engaging and delivers a unique level of storytelling that not only keeps you watching, but brings an unexpected amount of heart as well.
The Last Dance chronicles the journey of the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bull's NBA team from Jordan's first time as an NBA pro player, to his final game as an NBA pro player. The show derives its name from the team's final season together in 1997, where the team set out to win their sixth championship in eight years, where they sought to further solidify their status as the best team the NBA had ever seen. However, the notion that this would be their last season left a looming shadow, something which threatened to make coach Phil Jackson and the teams final season together a failure. The series delivers behind the scenes stories and insights that bring a new perspective on the pressures, challenges and triumphs the team had throughout their years together, and it is something that keeps the series fresh and interesting for both NBA newbies and veterans alike.
From the first episode, I was hooked. I often, especially with documentaries, look down at my phone briefly or go grab a drink or snack when watching, not to afraid of missing anything, but for the full 12 episode duration of the series I couldn't look away. Yet I can't exactly place why. The show had somewhat of a commanding and alluring presence to it, not so much forcing you to watch every second of it, but instead, making want to. I'd say the series use of storytelling and episode format were big contributors to this.
The storytelling is perhaps the one element of the documentary that separated this from others of its genre, providing a variety of unique takes, anecdotes and personal insights from NBA all-stars to sports editors alike; even former president of the United States, Barack Obama has a few snippets in there. There's even a short interview with late NBA star Kobe Bryant, something I felt was a touching addition to the series. Every interview is executed perfectly, with the right questions being asked and responses given that make the series feel real and personal. The way these interviews are spliced with footage of the games not only make you feel like you are there watching the game, but also adds a new dimension to them, with players detailing their thoughts during the game, other players, and more often than not, what they said or did to make Michael Jordan absolutely annihilate their team. The editing was superb from start to finish and is something that shouldn't be overlooked, providing a new look at some classic games and giving us detailed accounts of what was going on behind the scenes; and it never fails to suck you into the action of every moment, making you feel every triumph, defeat, and setback.
The way the series is formatted was interesting too, though at times somewhat frustrating. While the focus of the series is the Chicago Bull's 1997-98 season, that isn't really the focus of each individual episode. Every episode tells its own story, for example the first few episodes document the lives of some of the teams key players, from their childhood, college years, to their journey through the NBA and joining the Chicago Bulls. These, most notably, include Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, who were regarded as the dynamic trio of the team. Other episodes dive deeper into the teams other seasons leading up to the last dance, including their losses, victories and lessons learned throughout that made them the team they'd become. While the hopping back and forth throughout the season was at times frustrating and at first glance disorganised, I'd have the series no other way. It not only kept the series fresh and exciting, but also informative and interesting; Providing behind the scenes insight and stories I never knew about, nor expected to see from the series.
The series also serves as a deep dive into the NBA legend that is Michael Jordan. It was almost mesmerising watching how Michael Jordan became the legend he is today; from his work ethic, to his attitude, to his personality even what motivates him, It was an enjoyable and inspiring look at Jordan not only as a player, but an individual as well. He even discusses his relationship with the game, that despite his love for it, it also put a lot of pressure on him throughout his entire career, something that at times was often too much and was one of the many reasons he often thought about retiring from the sport. The documentary also dived into how Michael changed the NBA and culture itself, and that as a powerful cultural icon Michael brought the NBA to the forefront of the sporting world and even shaped sneaker culture as we know it today with his signature Air Jordan shoes. The way the show explored the figure that is Michael Jordan was a great and I feel necessary addition to the series.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the series is the surprising amount of heart it has. While ultimately the series is about the Bulls teams "last dance" the emphasis it has on the players as individuals was refreshing and at times emotional. It does something that I feel series like this should do more often and that's show the players not as athletes or the sportsmen we all see them as, but as people like everyone else. Players discuss the pressures they faced being at the top of the NBA, whether it be from the lack of privacy they had, the fame attributed to them, or the image they had to uphold, the show isn't afraid to dig deep and the players aren't afraid to share either. Many of the players come from different backgrounds and experiences that shaped the kind of person and player they'd become, and it's interesting to see how the perspective of the game and the effect the game has on players varies, and it is something that kept me engaged throughout. On top of this, there are several times throughout the series where players discuss personal struggles they've faced too, notably Michael Jordan and the passing of his father, providing an emotional weight to the series I'm not sure anyone expected.
There's also a heavy emphasis on winning and what being a pro player means throughout the documentary (for obvious reasons) and was in itself, very interesting. For Michael Jordan, he states time and time again that it's his will to win that made him the player he was; not how high he could jump or his physicality, but the one factor that made him the best player in NBA history was his drive to win. This at times meant he was quite aggressive and tough with his fellow teammates, often being seen as somewhat of a bully, but he himself said it was never out of hate or vanity but from the fact he as a player wanted to win and wanted his team to perform at his level; something his teammates joked was near impossible. Scottie Pippen on the other hand came from an extremely large family, and thus going into the NBA didn't care so much about being top draft pick, but trained to be good enough that he could help financially support his family; and it just so happened he'd become one of the best passers in the NBA. Dennis Rodman too was a unique player, acting as a defensive monster on the court and a party animal off of it, often getting the attention of the media for his wacky and lavish personality, which was something that often got him into trouble with the team. However, his late night escapades never impeded on his performance as a player, and as he explained it, actually helped keep him on form and performing to a high degree game after game. Thus, what the series pushed was the notion that there's no one way to be good at sports or anything for that matter, and that its a matter of finding your process and doing what you need to excel in your own way; something I felt was very eye-opening and not what I expected going into this series.
So, if you haven't already watched Netflix's The Last Dance, go watch it. I honestly can't recommend it enough. It not only succeeds at being a well made, captivating and interesting documentary, it excels at it in every way, making this one of the best documentaries I've seen in recent memory. Even if you're not big on sports or the NBA I highly recommend you still give this a watch and promise you won't regret it.
You can watch all 12 episodes of The Last Dance now on Netflix.