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The Problem With “The Last Dance”

There is not a sports fan alive that has not heard about the Michael Jordan Documentary “The Last Dance”. For those that have not watched the show, “The Last Dance” essentially is a documentary that covers the basketball career of Michael Jordan and the 90’s Chicago Bulls.

The documentary is extremely well-made and has interviews with a multitude of different players, celebrities, and icons. It’s a certified hit for ESPN as it garners millions of viewers every Sunday to watch the episodes. However, after watching the entirety of the series, I have a multitude of issues.

These issues stem from not the content itself, but primarily how the information has been presented and other aspects that are holding the documentary back. Again, while I am not insinuating that the documentary is bad, these issues have in my opinion prevented the documentary from reaching its pinnacle status.

And while I am sure there are a multitude of people that love this series, I just believe that these are a few objective aspects that could have improved the overall experience for everyone. 

The Promotional Content   

As a business, I understand there’s always a need to promote one’s product. However, ESPN has quite frankly made the last dance the main subject of nearly all their content surrounding the NBA. Look, I understand that there is essentially very little going on in the sports world at the moment, but the answer to this problem should not be forcing “The Last Dance” in every segment, and in every show.

By forcing this content onto the viewers for the past month, it has caused three major issues to occur. The first is that it degrades the segment or content as being simply a glorified advertisement for the documentary. This intrinsically cheapens the content of whatever is being portrayed even if the content portrayed was actually insightful.

The second major issue is that this constant talking about the documentary causes people to want to tune out and focus on something different. Think of any major song that has been ruined by the radio. The first time one hears a song it’s great, but after the millionth time of hearing that same song, the person will be sick and tired of it and will want to listen to something new.

The last major issue is that this constant promotion of the new episodes create insurmountable expectations that no show could reach. This is a problem because if an episode is not amazing, then the fact that there were such high expectations will cause the content to be viewed very negatively by the people that spent those hours in preparation for watching the episode.

Now some might be thinking I am over exaggerating the extent to which ESPN is promoting “The Last Dance”. If you end up going to the NBA section of ESPN.com all you’re going to see is commentary on “The Last Dance”.

The Presentation of information

The next set of issues is with the documentary itself. While the content within the documentary is extremely interesting, the way it is presented could have been changed to make it much more compelling.

The first major issue is that with the way they set up the document, they are constantly switching perspectives from the 1998 season and another past season. While I enjoyed this process when delving into a individual characters like Michael Jordan’s rookie year or Scottie Pippen’s college years, it provides useful context to the situations occurring in the 1998 season.

The problem is that when the flashbacks are not focused on a particular character, the use of this device feels more like a gimmick as compared to something that properly explains the entire story. 

The next issue that I have with the story is the lack of suspense or intrigue created within the documentary itself. If you look at any major documentary, it has to ensure that there is drama or intrigue that will only be resolved in the next episode. This way the audience feels excited and ready to watch the next episode.

In my opinion, the documentary did a terrible job at building tension and intrigue. For instance, take the Netflix documentary “Tiger King”. Many people binge watched that show because the way the information was presented. People were compelled to watch the next episode to resolve that tension only to have another issue be presented in the next episode.

If it was not for the current circumstances which has created a severe lack of content, and the fact that it focuses on one of the best players of all-time, I do not believe the documentary itself would have garnered this much attention. I saw this happen in my own household to where the first episode my entire family watched, whereas by the last episode, I was the only one watching.

The next major issue that I have about this documentary is the lack of unique and differentiating views within the episodes. Generally the majority of the perspective comes from the members of the team themselves. And while this is not necessarily a bad thing, the problem is that the views expressed by the members are extremely one-note and extremely biased.

Of course with any documentary, one is attempting to promote an idea or concept, but in most documentaries you will have different parties comment about how they viewed a certain situation. Let’s take for instance the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird documentary. During multiple moments in their respective careers, when interviewed they will have clearly different responses.

For instance, when Larry  Bird defeated the Lakers in game 7 of the 1984 NBA finals, despite it being the same event, both former players had drastically differing perspectives from the event. But in this documentary, there was not enough variation in regards to the perspective as everyone basically states the same 3 or four concepts throughout the entire series.

And the problem is that whenever something negative happens on the basketball court, it essentially has nothing to do with Michael Jordan. For instance when they lost to Detroit for two straight years, the excuse was that the Pistons were dirty and that Scottie was not fully ready in those series.

In another episode where the bulls lose to the Orlando Magic, it is again brushed aside as if to say the only reason the bulls lost was due to other extenuating factors. This leads to clear and overt bias stating that the Michael Jordan bulls were unstoppable when there are teams like the Pistons, the Magic, and the Rockets that would wholeheartedly disagree with this concept.

The final problem that I have with this documentary is that I truly do not believe that the story being present warrants 10 episodes. While it is good financially to have more content, I truly believe one could have trimmed the doc to about maybe 7-8 episodes and it still would have been extremely compelling.

A lot of the ideas are very much played out for dramatic effect, and while it does have it’s charm in certain situations, overall it made the series drag just enough at points to make it not as great as it could have been. And while there are some people that would argue the ability to do so effectively, I would challenge them by having one watch “A Courtship of Rivals.”

This documentary focused on Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and in that documentary not only does the director go over each player’s professional careers, but they also delve into the personal lives of both players during and before their NBA careers. There is definitely a way that they could have shortened the series, and if they did so, I believe it would have been more focused and would have greatly improved the documentary series. 

Overall, “The Final Dance” is the story of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. While it’s a fine documentary, I would not consider it a top tier documentary. As compared to other documentaries and even when compared to other sports documentaries, there was a lot left to be desired.

Yes it is inspirational and will definitely help those that never watch Michael Jordan garner a new found respect for his play. But the issues that I stated below truly stops this documentary from being as great as it has been. Even though ESPN and other media members would want to make the public believe this is the greatest documentary ever, the issues have unfortunately caused the documentary to be unable to reach the same heights as the stars that were portrayed within it.  

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