Everyone remembers Michael Jordan, even if they’re not interested in basketball. He’s not just a legend of the game, he was sport’s first pop-culture icon. ESPN recently released ten-part documentary The Last Dance, a compelling and thrilling look at Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season. It was largely filmed behind the scenes, with a camera crew even allowed into the locker room.

More than 23 million people have watched The Last Dance on Netflix so far, beating several broadcast records. Its success has become planetary thanks to Jason Hehir’s direction. He was able to surgically explain why the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty is deemed the strongest ever.

You don’t need to know much about basketball to understand and enjoy The Last Dance. Every detail is narrated through enthralling and well-structured flashbacks.

SALT LAKE CITY, UNITED STATES:  In this 14 June 1998 file photo, Michael Jordan (L) holds the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy and former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson holds the NBA champions Larry O'Brian trophy 14 June after winning game six of the NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, UT. The Bulls won the game 87-86 to take their sixth NBA championship. Jackson left the Bulls following the 1998 season and 12 January reports indicate that Jordan plans to announce his retirement at a 13 January news conference in Chicago.   AFP PHOTO/FILES/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UNITED STATES: In this 14 June 1998 file photo, Michael Jordan (L) holds the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy and former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson holds the NBA champions Larry O’Brian trophy 14 June after winning game six of the NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, UT. The Bulls won the game 87-86 to take their sixth NBA championship. Jackson left the Bulls following the 1998 season and 12 January reports indicate that Jordan plans to announce his retirement at a 13 January news conference in Chicago. AFP PHOTO/FILES/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)

How winners cope

One of the documentary’s goals was to chronicle how winners cope with franchises, defeats, pressure and rumour. The film revealed lots of stories about Jordan, his relationship with team-mates and opponents, and how the world idolised him.

The film also revealed an unseen Michael Jordan – a ruthless competitor and one of the greatest trash-talkers in the League. He was a good guy off the court despite his harsh style of leadership.

During practice, he often provoked his far less competitive team-mates: “If you can’t handle pressure from me, you’re not going to be able to handle the pressure of the NBA play-off.” It was his way of bringing team-mates up to his obsessive desire to win.

Everybody knew that was impossible to accomplish, and Jordan knew it too. But Steve Kerr’s NBA title-winning-shot in 1996-97 against Utah Jazz was evidence MJ trusted his team-mates.

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 28:  Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley (34) laughs at a foul call with Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan (23) in the first half 28 January 1996 at the United Center in Chicago.  The Bulls won 93-82. Jordan scored 31 points, and Barkley scored 20 with 16 rebounds.  (Photo credit should read BRIAN BAHR/AFP via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 28: Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley (34) laughs at a foul call with Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan (23) in the first half 28 January 1996 at the United Center in Chicago. The Bulls won 93-82. Jordan scored 31 points, and Barkley scored 20 with 16 rebounds. (Photo credit should read BRIAN BAHR/AFP via Getty Images)

Warrior

With five seconds of the game remaining, Jordan pump-faked and stepped through the Jazz double-team. He found Kerr wide open – and the rest is history. Kerr said: “I’ve always tried to show him I was a warrior. That’s how I gained his respect.”

By the 1990s, the Bulls had become global icons and the NBA grew exponentially as a commercial brand, earning billions of dollars. Jordan had to deal with media pressure every day.

 

The loss of his father ramped up that pressure and Hehir magically depicts Jordan’s feelings soon after winning the 1992-93 championships title through emotional face-to-face interviews and media reconstructions of the tragic death.  

If Jordan was Batman, Scottie Pippen was Robin. One episode traces the Arkansas roots of the future Hall of Famer, who signed an underpaid $17 million contract for seven years.

CHICAGO, UNITED STATES:  Michael Jordan (L) and Scottie Pippen (R) of the Chicago Bulls talk during the final minutes of their game 22 May in the NBA Eastern Conference finals aainst the Miami Heat at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls won the game 75-68 to lead the series 2-0.   AFP PHOTO/VINCENT LAFORET (Photo credit should read VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, UNITED STATES: Michael Jordan (L) and Scottie Pippen (R) of the Chicago Bulls talk during the final minutes of their game 22 May in the NBA Eastern Conference finals aainst the Miami Heat at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls won the game 75-68 to lead the series 2-0. AFP PHOTO/VINCENT LAFORET (Photo credit should read VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images)

The last dance

Pippen was disgruntled before the 1998 season began. It was one of many troubles that season for Zen-coach Phil Jackson, who was the true architect of this unforgettable team. He had squabbled fiercely with general manager Jerry Krause about dismantling the squad.   

Jackson handled a tough array of personalities in the locker room. His worship of Native American philosophy helped him touch the right strings of every player, especially a backbone that included Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc.

Rodman’s impact and eccentricities are explored in the third episode. His 48-hour wild trip to Las Vegas in the middle of the season belongs to the Rodman character. But the centre’s crucial role in Bulls victories is documented.

Rodman’s rebound ability, the way he switched in defence, and the electricity he gave were all impressive skills Jordan needed to win.

Chasing a second ‘three-peat’ – winning an NBA championship in three consecutive seasons – hasn’t happened many times. Some people still wonder what would have happened if Bulls’ front office decided not to rebuild the team and kept the same players for one more year.

Perhaps Jordan would have a seventh ring on his fingers? There’s no doubt The Last Dance is one story we’ll never forget.

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