Jackson, Scottie Pippen,
Direction: Jason Hehir
ometimes the news, local and international, is so dreary that watching a sports documentary can make you feel better. There is something to be said about well-made, true-subject documentaries. They can add to your yearning to pick up something remotely true without switching to a local news channel, where you will learn that even an onion trader is mugged (and killed) in Karachi.
Or maybe it is just a Karachi thing, a city so big that it feels like an octopus with tentacles spreading further every time you look away. Brimming with frustration, fear, gentrification, crime, it can be challenging to somehow avoid dreadful chaos.
Sometimes, by finding the right documentary on Netflix, the most popular choice for a streaming service, can be the answer, albeit a tricky one.
Documentaries come in all shapes so the first thing to do is deciding on what you’re in the mood for: a documentary film or [the longer] documentary series. Once decided, many terrifying, grotesque true crime stories will come up if you let the algorithm choose; it does so by basing it on the popularity of content and believe me, criminal documentaries or series based on true crimes are hugely popular like, for instance, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Not a true crime documentary but a series that will tell you about the notorious serial killer from the POV of his victims. Cheery? Not so.
In such a case, going for a sporting documentary series is a smarter place to start from before going down that rabbit hole of true documentaries that could be about art, design or cooking.
And in sports, if there is one documentary series that is an intersection of media, sports and pop culture with an Emmy to its name and is undoubtedly a good place to start from, it is The Last Dance.
If you think starring in ‘90s film, Space Jam, was popular sporting figure Michael Jordan’s only hurrah, think again.
With the evolution of technology, the goodbye gets a reassessment and what emerges are stories of players beyond Jordan. We learn about the National Basketball Association, better known as the NBA, a larger organizational structure and how an organization can cultivate a solid team, the role of a team manager, building public pressure seen in arenas, and a feeding frenzy in the media that is now replaced by anyone with a cell phone.
Don’t get me wrong; the media existed even during the Michael Jordan era but it wasn’t about filling the slot for a 24-hour news cycle back then - unlike now. A modern news cycle often lasts for 24 hours because of how quickly stories develop with follow-ups presented because of the need for content of the average viewer and keeping them interested.
But back then, the feeding frenzy meant people outside your house in dozens, outside the courts and everywhere you went. And the same news repeated at prime time until more developments took place. Now, there is no waiting period. It has to be filled or the viewer will switch to another channel.
So, whether you simply want to know what basketball was like before the days of Lebron James, the current superstar who plays for L.A. Lakers [and for whom rappers Drake, Kanye West, Eminem and Lil Wayne made the song ‘Forever’ to be featured in a documentary] or before the early days of the late Kobe Bryant, The Last Dance is for you.
Whatever your reason is for watching this particular docu-series, it will shed light on a lot more than Michael Jordan and will break the myth behind the man.
The best thing perhaps is that Jordan is a part of it as well as other players from the Bulls and other teams. His inclusion is an integral part as we learn about him as a sportsperson, his beginnings and the role his family played. There is also attention given to the economic problems often faced by lesser-known players; the celebrity on the team - Dennis Rodman - and Phil Jackson, who was quite possibly the best coach the NBA has ever had.
In a total of 10 episodes, The Last Dance paints a clear picture of how basketball players came up then - in comparison to now where Instagram and Twitter and other social media platforms have removed that air of mystery from everyone including sports figures.
The Last Dance also is about economic disparity. Michael Jordan made millions from the game and several endorsements. However, contracts were not always fair as a player was signed for a decade, so no matter how well he played, he made the same amount of money he did as a rookie player instead of getting an increment due to his growth as a player.
Michael Jordan’s towering figure had the best teams struggling. And yet, in the aftermath of his father’s death, he quit basketball for baseball. He did make a comeback to the game he was born to play later.
The Chicago Bulls’ story is lesser known than that of the New York Knicks and L.A. Lakers but it is one that says so much about how a sporting figure could break culture division but why no person should be put on a pedestal. What we do learn is how basketball can unite people – even if it is for 90 minutes – and why some sports like basketball are about a team playing as one.
And when you do watch some moments that led to six championships with players like Jordan on the floor, it will be a delightful experience because whether you follow basketball or not, watching those moments is like watching poetry in motion.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection