Image: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico
Image: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico

The Last Dance: The perfect ending to the perfect story

The story of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls – perhaps the best team in NBA history – is, as I have told repeatedly in this series of reviews, among the most well-thumbed in the history of sport. Not only did the Bulls complete a legendary ‘threepeat’, they did it twice.

The Last Dance captures the essence of what made the Bulls so special in the 1990s: this week’s final brace of episodes was the perfect conclusion to a simply breathtaking tale.

Episode nine of  The Last Dance once again went above and beyond what is normally expected for a documentary of its nature: it transcended basketball. In the series’ penultimate episode, the story of Steve Kerr once again became the focus. A player that had clearly earned the respect of Jordan, Kerr told the documentary how he was “given nothing for free” in the NBA, for a time it wasn’t even likely that he would go to college on a scholarship.

Episode nine retells the story of the tragic murder of Kerr’s father, Malcom Kerr, while working as an academic in Beirut. Kerr’s insight recaptures the dire sense of loss that the Kerr family experienced at the time. In an episode that also explores the exhilarating highs of the Bulls’ playoff success, Steve Kerr’s story gives balance to a series that could have easily gone the other way. This is a team that were forced to overcome the very worst of human-nature; it never showed on court.

Rodman was fined $250,000 for his indiscretions, but the affair was quickly forgotten

The final two episodes of The Last Dance provided the most straightforward account of the Bulls success from the series’ catalogue. Having set the scene in the previous eight episodes, how Chicago claimed their fifth and sixth NBA Championships becomes self-evident. This was a complete team, lead by a complete coach – in an organisation full of characters.

The Last Dance  – of course – had another twist before it reached its resting place. Between the third and fourth games of the 1998 NBA Finals, Dennis Rodman – for a second time – went AWOL, appearing in WCW Nitro with Hulk Hogan without permission from the Bulls. Rodman was fined $250,000 for his indiscretions, but the affair was quickly forgotten – for reasons the soon became obvious.

“This was great, this was the greatest,” Phil Jackson muttered as the Bulls’ team bus left Utah for the last time. The Bulls had won their sixth Championship – the team’s last dance was everything that everyone could have ever hoped for. The road to victory in Utah was far from simple: the Bulls came close to elimination on multiple occasions. Yet they pulled through.

Michael Jordan and the Bulls changed the culture

– President Barack Obama

Scottie Pippen was immobile and frail by the time that the final buzzer came around as the Bulls beat the Jazz in Utah, such was his desire to win. Phil Jackson, when so many coaches might have blinked – calling a timeout to great detriment to his team – allowed Jordan’s greatness to take hold on the final play. Boom. Chicago had done it again.

The Bulls are yet to return to the top of the mountain. President Barack Obama returned in the season’s finale to give one last flurry of presidential insight: “Michael Jordan and the Bulls changed the culture.” POTUS 44 is right – 23 had changed the game.

Without that team, Chicago would only be known for the Cubs and the Blackhawks

The final moments of The Last Dance are bittersweat – both owing to its content, and the fact that the best sports documentary series was approaching its last hurah. Jerry Reinsdorf – the Bulls owner at the time – made a last grasp effort to keep the team together, a decision that entierly undermined the season-long message that 1998 was the end of the road for Jordan’s Bulls.

Jackson was asked to stay, he departed stage left. Jordan was asked to stay, he departed stage right. Pippen was traded. Kerr was traded. Rodman was released. The dance had ended, but its magic lives on.

The Last Dance captures the most transformative era in NBA history: without that team, basketball wouldn’t be the global product that it is today. Without that team, Chicago would only be known for the Cubs and the Blackhawks.

The Last Dance was perfect; that’s all I have to say.

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