It takes a team to tango

‘The Last Dance’ is a true, authentic sports story

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ESPN

Promotional image for “The Last Dance,” featuring Steve Kerr, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, and Phil Jackson (left to right). ESPN’s latest documentary series, “The Last Dance,” features the story of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls team and provides a look into all the things that made the finale for the Bulls’ dynasty so special. The series stands as an incredible sports story that deserved to be told.

There is a clear truth regarding sports: the best teams are the ones that fight the hardest and stay strong. The Chicago Bulls of the ‘90s clearly knew this. That is why they won six championships in eight years.

Chicago’s dynasty throughout the ‘90s was one of the most dominant and iconic dynasties of the modern era of sports.”

— Staff Writer Daniel Stackhouse

Chicago’s dynasty throughout the ‘90s was one of the most dominant and iconic dynasties of the modern era of sports. They say that most great teams go out with a whimper, but that definitely was not the case for the Bulls.  They had one the finest, most meticulously crafted finales of any dynasty. 

Picture this. It is the summer of 1997. The Chicago Bulls have won their fifth title in seven years. General Manager Jerry Krause is feeling resentment toward fans lauding the success of the Chicago Bulls and giving credit to head coach Phil Jackson, seemingly disregarding Krause’s efforts as the GM. Krause made the executive decision, backed by owner Jerry Reinsdorf, to let Jackson go after the following season regardless of the outcome.

What followed was one final season for the Bulls’ dynasty — “The Last Dance.” A camera crew followed the team during this season. Fast forward 18 years after the Bulls hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy for a sixth time, and ESPN produced a documentary series covering the events.

Now, after it is all said and done, it was a legendary sports story that was worth being told.”

— Staff Writer Daniel Stackhouse

Originally intended to air following the end of the 2019-2020 NBA season, the release of the documentary series was pushed forward to this past April because of the current pandemic’s effect on professional sports. 

Ten hour-long episodes were released over the past five weeks, averaging over five million viewers throughout its run. Now, after it is all said and done, it was a legendary sports story that was worth being told.

“The Last Dance” goes through the buildup that spanned beyond a decade and how important that was. While going through the major events of the 1997-1998 season, it also tells the history of the Bulls organization from drafting Michael Jordan to the 1996-1997 NBA Finals. 

From start to finish, the Bulls’ season was a roller coaster. Struggles arose when Scottie Pippen delayed his surgery, staying away from the team as a jab to the front office. Even Dennis Rodman tested the team’s patience by leaving the team way longer than he was permitted. Through those struggles they clinched the first seed in the East.

Even in the playoffs the Indiana Pacers gave them a run for their money in the Eastern Conference Final, but the Bulls narrowly got past them. All the way down near the end with Jordan fighting through food poisoning in the NBA finals en route to the Finals victory Chicago fought all season for.

Explore big names such as Pippen, one of the best number twos in sports history who was constantly overshadowed by Jordan, and Rodman, a defensive monster who was remembered for being a character and his antics. Understand the culture enforced by Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches in NBA history who brought his team together in a unique way.

Jordan was an iconic figure in American culture, and his skills and drive for improvement were there to back up his status.”

— Staff Writer Daniel Stackhouse

This documentary series does not cut any corners about Jordan and his story. It is absolutely necessary. Jordan is too important of a figure to leave out how vital he was.

Not just for his on-court ability, the documentary navigates how important Jordan was as an aspect of American culture. It goes into how Jordan’s public image was built. Not only did his play on the court do a lot of the talking, he also changed player marketing with the Air Jordan line of shoes, countless sponsorship deals, and even a feature-length film with “Space Jam.” Jordan was an iconic figure in American culture, and his skills and drive for improvement were there to back up his status.

Viewers get to see the human side of Jordan off the court, which is an angle that few have been able to experience until now. Sure, the championships the Bulls amassed were no doubt because of the team that was assembled, but the documentary sheds light on how Jordan and his tough love leadership and passion for the game were a cornerstone for these teams.

Every aspect of legendary sports stories is here. The buildup to glory, the immense struggles, the overcoming of those struggles, and the aspect of humanity through it all. 

I admire this documentary series the most for going through the overarching story of the Bulls and the relevance of all the events of the 1997-1998 season: when Jordan injected life in a failing Bulls team when he was drafted in 1984, how the Bulls pushed past their demons in the Detroit Pistons in 1991 to win their first championship. Also included is Pippen’s baffling decision to pull himself in a 1994 playoff game, even as the team played without Jordan. Despite the Bulls winning that game, it emotionally shook everybody on that Bulls team. Then bounce to the 1997 NBA Finals when Steve Kerr hit a clutch shot to give the Bulls a fifth championship. Those events developed the Bulls to what they would be in the 1997-1998 season.

Sports stories of legend earn their status because they reflect the beauty of real life.”

— Staff Writer Daniel Stackhouse

There is a fresh mix of covering the events of the season with the events of the past. When watching this, I understood why all the events stacked up mattered. It all culminates in a bittersweet finale that leaves a sense of awe over the journey that just took place and its unforgettable impact on sports.

This series is absolutely worth the time. “The Last Dance” is a phenomenal look at a final season only the Bulls can say they went through, and it has all the historical buildup from years past to back it up.

Sports stories of legend earn their status because they reflect the beauty of real life. Vince Lombardi’s Packers dominating the 1960s, the 2016 Chicago Cubs ending a century-long curse, and even our own Panther sports teams pushing their craft. What they all have in common is that the conflicts they go through are real, and the success garnered proves it.

“The Last Dance”  is available on ESPN in America and Netflix in international territories.