CHENNAI: One singularly significant disadvantage of a sports biopic is viewer interest. Someone not interested in, say, hockey may be difficult to win over to a film about it. Jason Hehir’s latest Netflix /ESPN epic, the 10-episode “The Last Dance,” about Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, whose rampage made sporting history in the 1990s, could have struggled with this issue. But a little patience can go a long way — give it a chance, and it will grab your attention.
I have never been a fan of basketball, but a few episodes into “The Last Dance” had me hooked to the series and its protagonist, Jordan, who played 15 seasons with the Bulls in the US’s National Basketball Association (NBA).
The documentary, while emphasizing the athlete’s undeniable cultural influence, leadership and heroism, offers many hours of exciting basketball that get our pulses racing. Conceptualized and shot with wonderful imagination, “The Last Dance” also examines the stories of his teammates, not to mention hopes and disillusionment of players who had to go up against Jordan on the court.
Generally focusing on the 1997-98 Bulls run, we are also taken into the murkiness of the backroom dealing and behind-the-scenes machinations of sports management and stardom, explained through detailed interviews with Jordan himself, as well as other prominent NBA players and coaches — and even a former US president.
The not-so-discreet attempts to remove Phil Jackson as the team’s head coach, and teammate Dennis Rodman’s erratic behavior are touched upon, as is NBA legend Scottie Pippen’s disgruntlement over his low salary. The murder of Jordan’s father, in a botched-highway robbery, is also examined in detail, showing a different side to the story of “MJ”.
But the story always returns to the irrepressible Jordan’s on-court antics. Nothing could keep him down, from severe food poisoning before a key playoff game to being targeted by opponents.
Hehir’s work is not a purely devotional piece. Jordan’s gambling history is laid bare, and the rumors that he was a bully are given plenty of credence.
But all that does little to detract from the man’s reputation. “The Last Dance” makes it clear in all senses — It is a documentary series leading up to the end of Jordan’s time in Chicago, but highlights every pirouette and twirl along the way. Jordan’s career was almost literally a dance — nimble-footed, graceful and powerful all at once, and sure to bring the house down every time.
With sport across the world mothballed on account of the coronavirus, this series, reminding us all of one of the world’s great sporting icons, was just what sports fans needed.