Everyone is talking about The Last Dance—a docuseries on NBA icon Michael Jordan and his final 1997-98 season with the Chicago Bulls. As of Sunday, four episodes of the 10-part miniseries have aired and have prompted a conversation about late NBA superstar Kobe Bryant’s final season with the Los Angeles Lakers and the unprecedented access camera crews had in recording every moment of that iconic time.
According to ESPN, several Lakers staff members who were around during Bryant’s 20th and final season say that in ways they had never seen before, camera crews were packed in locker rooms, team practices and even the team’s charter plane.
“They had unprecedented and, by far, greater access than anyone else ever,” Lakers’ public relations vice president John Black said. “We certainly allowed them to do everything we could within what the league would allow, and sometimes, with a wink and look-the-other-way, allowed them even more.”
Former assistant trainer for the Lakers Marco Nunez said that he sees little difference between the access documentarians were given to chronicle Jordan’s last season and that of Bryant’s camera crews.
“Just watching them and being able to view what the cameras were doing to [capture] Jordan’s pregame routine, I mean, it’s the same thing,” Nunez said. “Just flash forward ... take out No. 23 with the Bulls and insert No. 24 with the Lakers. Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty much identical.”
It’s unclear what will happen to the footage of Bryant’s 2015-16 season with the Lakers, especially in the wake of the five-time NBA champ’s death.
Sources close to the matter told ESPN that the footage had been in the editing stages for a potential documentary to be released years from now — though it is unclear when exactly that would be — and that Bryant had seen edited material and provided feedback in the months leading up to his death. It is unlikely those plans have changed, the sources said.
The sources told ESPN that rather than have anyone else chronicle his season, Bryant, who had produced and starred in his 2015 documentary “Muse,” ultimately sought control over the footage, which is why he decided it was best to have his own camera crew take on such a project, especially as Bryant worked to build his own post-NBA media empire.
Some former Lakers team members and staffers say they weren’t too thrilled about all the cameras being around as it was not one of the Lakers’ better seasons.
“It was like, ‘All right, we got to really watch what we’re saying, watch what we’re talking about, because you have no idea who’s watching or editing this,’” Cleveland Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. said. “That’s something we all kind of talked about as a team is like, ‘Hey, you never know where this is going. So let’s just keep it mellow around the cameras.’”
Nance began his rookie season with the Lakers that year and he said that, while a documentary on Bryant would be awesome, he really just wishes that particular season wasn’t the thing being covered.
“It was really cool because, like, this is the Black Mamba. But at the same time, like, this is also the worst season in Lakers history. So while I’m really proud to be in the NBA playing with this absolute legend, [that] is not something that I’m really trying to relive,” Nance said.
But some staffers and players agree that, while the footage isn’t very flattering for the team, it would be a good look for pro-basketball history to document the final season of one of the sport’s greatest players.
“I do recall saying, ‘This is in some ways annoying to have extra people around at these odd times that [they] aren’t normally allowed with a camera on,’” former Lakers head strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco said. “But in that same conversation to myself, [I was] saying, ‘But this will be cool, you know, [however] many years down the road.’”
Nance said he eventually came around on the issue as well.
“Kobe would say something in the locker room and I would kind of think about it like, ‘Oh, that’s gonna look pretty sick when they film it. Or, you know, that 60-point game or [him] playing in Philadelphia that last time.
‘This is pretty monumental. I’m so glad somebody’s going to have a way to remember this.’”