The Last Dance has the stage all to itself. No basketball, no live sport, no distraction. Michael Jordan is in the spotlight, which is exactly how he would like it.
Two episodes into ESPN’s 10-part marathon, here are the winners and losers so far.
Winner: Michael Jordan
Given this is very much a Michael Jordan-approved production, it would have been astonishing if Michael Jordan came out of the first few episodes of The Last Dance with anything but a big, fat W. He is very much the dealer at the table and he probably won’t be giving himself a bad hand.
In fact, Jordan was so confident of coming out of this thing with his reputation enhanced, he literally sits through his interviews next to a table containing a glass of whiskey and a cigar that is very much lit.
Jordan smokes six cigars a day and, three years ago, this was put into its true historical context:
“Michael Jordan has joined Winston Churchill as perhaps the most iconic cigar smokers in history” - Sports Illustrated, 2017.
In episode one of this series, Jordan talks about his parents, his upbringing and his brilliant college coach, Dean Smith. Shockingly, Churchill is omitted from Jordan’s list of influences. Of course, Churchill is a man who famously had a portrait of himself commissioned by the House of Lords, only for him to be appalled by the end product, having it destroyed. This portrait of Michael Jordan won’t suffer the same fate, you suspect.
That being said, we do get a glimpse of Jordan’s controlling side throughout the first two episodes of this series. We’ve got him shouting at teammates in practice, demonstrating in Luc Longley’s face how to defend like a proper basketball player. We see him mocking Jerry Krause about his height.
“You wanna do some layups?” Jordan asks. “They gotta lower the rim.”
We see Jordan take full control of a media scrum, when Scottie Pippen’s future is up for question. There is the following exchange with a reporter, who tries to delve into Jordan’s opinion on Pippen’s standing at the franchise:
Jordan: “Y’all gonna talk about the game or y’all gonna talk to Scottie?”
Reporter: “A little bit of both”
Jordan: “Well you can talk to Scottie, the answer is Scottie’s reply”
Reporter: “Well what about the game?”
Jordan: “There you go!”
Cue raucous laughter from the scrum of journalists, and the Pippen conversation is very much killed by Jordan.
It is interesting to consider that Jordan was supportive of these moments being aired. Of course, there is nothing insidious to see here, but the moments show a slightly more tyrannical side to Jordan’s personality, a side that he is happy to show.
Michael Wilbon put it best when he said that Jordan was “the ultimate sports alpha male”. Even in contemplating what does and does not make his documentary, it is clear Jordan will always pride himself on being a ruthless, dominant force.
Loser: Scottie Pippen
Michael Jordan’s trusted lieutenant tells his story in the second episode of The Last Dance. We hear about his early years in Arkansas, where his father and brother were both wheelchair-bound. We hear about his ascent through the ranks at Central Arkansas and, of course, we hear about his struggles to get the truly big pay day during his first decade in the professional ranks.
We are, largely, on Pippen’s side throughout, with several voices supporting his battle with the Bulls to get more money. Things change, though, when we start to see his treatment of Jerry Krause, the then-Bulls General Manager. Now, Krause didn’t do a whole lot to help himself, but Pippen seemed pretty happy to hop on board with Jordan’s bullying of the man.
In the closing scenes, Jordan himself lands a late shot on Pippen, calling him “selfish,” with regards to his decision to delay his surgery ahead of the 1997/98 season. In the world of The Last Dance, it is the casting vote.
Pippen’s ex wife, Larsa, chipped into proceedings on Sunday night, too. “Thx for your concern Scottie did ok,” she Tweeted, posting a screenshot of his career earnings which totalled over $109 million.
Jordan might have got the final word on Pippen’s behaviour in 1997, but the Arkansas boy eventually got his pay day.
Winner: Phil Jackson
Sticking up for Scottie Pippen throughout the section on his dispute with the Bulls franchise, Phil Jackson earned a special place in our hearts in the opening episodes of this documentary. He comes out of the opening two episodes extremely well.
“Enjoy what’s happening, because this is it,” he would tell his players before his self-titled ‘Last Dance’ season.
Who’d have thought that Jackson could be capable of such a Bebo stunnah quote? He stopped short of saying “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened xoxo,” though, which might have made him the MVP of the documentary so far.
Loser: Jerry Krause
Jerry Krause reminds us of Jon Snow at the end of Season 5 of Game of Thrones, when the Night’s Watch betray him, stabbing him countless times.
The knives are out for Krause in the first two episodes of The Last Dance:
“Gerry had the little man problem”
“He couldn’t control the part of him that needed credit”
“He was resentful”
Jordan lands a dagger, Pippen lands a dagger, Jackson lands a dagger. Everyone gets a go at Krause, and he is very much the piñata of the show.
Magic Johnson rightly states that Jordan “needed the right horses to go along with him,” and Krause was pivotal to that end, but he pissed off too many people along the way and wanted a new Bulls squad too soon.
The scary part is that things will only get more brutal for Krause. Jackson has barely shown his teeth yet.
Winner: Boston Celtics
This entire show is about Michael Jordan destroying his opponents. The 63-point game against the Boston Celtics has already featured and, remarkably, the Celtics come out quite well from the whole thing.
First of all, the Celtics obviously ended up winning the match in which Jordan notched 63 points.
Secondly, Danny Ainge gets to remind us of the time he beat Michael Jordan in golf.
And, finally, Larry Bird gets to show his humility, landing one of the greatest quotes of the series so far: "That wasn't Michael Jordan out there, that was God disguised as Michael Jordan."
Loser: Pre-Jordan Chicago
If that 90s Chicago Bulls team is being revisited in all its glory right now, boy, is the pre-Michael Jordan outfit looking shabby.
In fact, the organisation sounds like a total car crash before Jordan came along to save it from depths of misery.
“The travelling cocaine circus” is how the early-80s Chicago team is referred to, with less people showing up to their home games than the indoor soccer team that shared the same arena.
I, for one, would absolutely watch that prequel documentary.
Loser: French man, looking for an autograph
The final mention has to go to the poor audio technician working on the Nulle Part Ailleurs Show in Paris, who pops up in episode one of The Last Dance.
After getting Jordan mic’d up for his television appearance, he shoots his shot, producing a piece of paper.
“Would you mind signing this please?” he asks.
Jordan stares at him blankly, before being saved by his knight in shining armour, aka his handler.
“No, no, not now, not now,” comes the response.
The French man is defeated, and accepts the rejection.
Where is this French man now? How did his life turn out? Did he ever find true happiness after that brutal rejection in Paris back in 1997?
Some of the questions we absolutely won’t be hearing next week on The Last Dance.