How ‘The Last Dance’ Finally Shows Fans the Real Michael Jordan

ESPN’s documentary The Last Dance has given fans a rare look into Michael Jordan’s life. The 10-part documentary features rare footage of Jordan during his 1997-98 championship run with the Chicago Bulls and an in-depth interview with the NBA legend. From his questionable behavior towards teammates to his gambling habits and intense competitive spirit, here is how The Last Dance shows fans the real Jordan.

The Last Dance Michael Jordan Scottie Pippen
‘The Last Dance’: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen | VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images

Inside ‘The Last Dance’

The documentary was put together in collaboration with Jordan and several of his close friends, whose insight helped steer the narrative. While Jordan played a big part in the making of the series, director Jason Hehir revealed that the NBA legend never interfered in the creative process.

According to LA Times, Hehir explained how Jordan was very candid in The Last Dance interviews and was never afraid to discuss even the more controversial elements of his story. This includes talking about the rumors that there was rampant cocaine use amongst his teammates during his rookie season.

“From the moment I first sat down with Michael to discuss the project, he was surprisingly forthcoming, candid and eager to discuss a lot of the topics that I think people are going to be interested in,” Hehir shared. “… He was all-in from Day 1. He was an active participant.”

The Last Dance covers subjects well beyond the confines of Jordan’s behavior on the court. Apart from pushing his teammates to the brink, the series covers Jordan’s gambling habits, his various retirements, the death of his father, and his willingness to do whatever it took to win.

This includes verbally attacking his own teammates in practice in a bid to get them ready for what was going to be another arduous playoff run.

Was Jordan a bully?

One of the more controversial elements of The Last Dance is Jordan’s interactions with his teammates. The documentary shows Jordan getting into some intense verbal spats with his teammate, Scott Burrell, who joined the Bulls in the 1997 season.

Although Jordan seemingly had it out for Burrell, he does not want anyone to think badly about his former teammate. In fact, Burrell revealed in The Last Dance that Jordan’s antics were driven by his desire to win and not by anything personal.

“I mean, I don’t want people to think he’s a bully. That he’s a mean guy,” Burrell stated. “He’s just driven to win. And there are no free rides, and I did not expect a free ride in Chicago.”

By his own admission, Jordan criticized Burrell’s game on the court and poked fun at his partying ways during team plane rides. At one point, he even compared him to the team’s resident bad guy, Dennis Rodman.

While some fans might walk away thinking that Jordan is a bully, Burrell went on to share his thoughts on what it was like joining a team that was destined for another championship.

‘The Last Dance’ shows Jordan’s humanity

In his interview, Burrell admitted that he was very nervous about playing alongside Jordan, Rodman, and Scottie Pippen. Everyone in the league considered them the team to beat, and Burrell did not want to be “the guy that messes it up.”

The pressure to win was enormous for Burrell and the Bulls, and The Last Dance captures the stress that Jordan had to deal with on a daily basis. While it wasn’t always easy for Jordan, Hehir believes watching his struggles proves that he is “a human being.”

“From 35,000 feet, it’s easy. From 20 years later, it’s easy to see these teams as so dominant that it became simple for them to win,” Hehir explained. “They won six out of eight years. … Death, taxes and the Chicago Bulls are going to be in the Finals. I think what fans will see over the course of 10 hours of this program is that it was never easy, never simple.”

What makes the documentary even more impressive is the unlimited access filmmakers were able to secure with the Bulls. And it was all made possible by the future commissioner of the league, Adam Silver, who was the head honcho of NBA Entertainment in 1997.

How did cameras get an inside look at Jordan’s life?

A producer with NBA Entertainment, Andy Thompson, was the one who originally pitched the idea to Silver and Gregg Winik, who was an executive at the time. Thompson had heard rumors that Jordan was going to retire again and thought it was prudent to get some behind-the-scenes footage of his final season.

Silver, who believed in expanding the vision of NBA Entertainment, took the idea to the owner of the Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf liked the idea of filming the entire season and agreed to approve it if Jordan and the Bull’s coach, Phil Jackson, were also okay with it.

“The coach, at the end of the day, controls the locker room,” Silver revealed. “So we needed Phil’s cooperation.”

The first episode of The Last Dance actually shows Silver and Jackson’s meeting. Fortunately, Jackson understood the importance of the project and immediately offered his approval.

Jordan, of course, also played a big role in the success of the documentary. Along with the footage, Jordan sat down and reflected on his playing days over the course of several interviews. These interviews offer fans a rare perspective on Jordan’s career and reveal what it was really like being the star of the NBA.

New episodes of The Last Dance premiere Sundays on ESPN.

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