As a piece of pop art, as a nostalgia delivery device, as a triumph in film editing and story construction, and as a coronatine monotony breaker, The Last Dance delivers. There’s not much new information here for me—I became an NBA diehard in 1986, and I saw much of what’s depicted here in real-time—but it’s still been an entertaining and fascinating watch. Especially when rewatching things at 41 that I first experienced as a teen, and how that shift in perspective also shifts how I’m processing what I witnessed. (For instance, when Mike hit those six threes against the Blazers in game one of the 1992 Finals, I was jumping out of my seat, my skin. But now? It’s...quaint seeing a guard shoot wide-open, flat-footed threes, and I’m thinking “WHY ARE THEY GIVING HIM SO MUCH SPACE? HE’S NOT EVEN JUMPING! AT LEAST PUT A HAND UP, MOTHERFUCKERS!”)
That said, while it’s been branded as a documentary, it shares more elements of the sort of biographical miniseries associated with BET or Lifetime. I wouldn’t quite call it propaganda, but it’s not quite not propaganda, either. Because what else do you call a 10-part series where the subject approved all the footage and has the last word of commentary on it and only agreed to do it after they believed that their legacy was sincerely threatened by someone else?
From the New York Times:
But the timing of his agreeing to cooperate with the producer Mike Tollin is apt: As Tollin said in an article in The New York Times last week, Jordan’s cooperation to participate in the documentary and greenlight the release of the long-hidden footage came on the same day that James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were celebrating winning the N.B.A. championship in 2016. That is some grain of salt.
“I take a redeye to Charlotte for a meeting, I turn on ESPN in the morning as I’m getting dressed, and there’s the Cavaliers’ parade as I’m heading in to see Michael,” Tollin said of his first face-to-face meeting with Jordan and his business advisers Estee Portnoy and Curtis Polk. “He said yes in the room, which doesn’t happen too often in my business.”
In a miniseries devoid of any real bombshells or unique insights, this obsession with LeBron James is definitely one. While Mike is in everyone’s head, LeBron is in his.
Michael Jordan is still the greatest NBA player, with an on-court shadow so menacing that he’s broken the brains of many basketball fans who’ve conditioned themselves to only acknowledge greatness in Jordan facsimiles. This is how Kobe Bryant’s legacy sneaks into a conversation it doesn’t have the range for, and why some twist themselves into illogical origami to make people believe that they actually believe Kawhi Leonard is the best NBA player today.
It’s near impossible to have a career and legacy greater than Mike did. But it’s not impossible to be a better and/or more effective basketball player than he was, and the more dispassionate the comparisons between him and LeBron—in this context—get, the messier they are.
Maybe you disagree. But one thing is clear, Mike himself agrees that the comparison is messy. And messy here means valid. He wouldn’t have greenlit, produced, and starred in this hagiography if he didn’t. You don’t switch the fan on unless you feel the heat.