Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, sports fans are desperate for any athletic-adjacent content. Since it first aired on April 19, ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary, focusing on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls and their backstories, has been a weekly glass of cold water in the sports content desert. With the fifth and sixth episodes of the 10-part series set to air tonight, I thought it would be a good time to check in with the Liberty Ballers staff and assess what we have liked about the documentary up to this point.
What has been your favorite part of the documentary thus far?
Sean Kennedy: I would watch a 10-part series just on Dennis Rodman’s Vegas trip. It started with footage of him downing a Miller Lite and immediately hopping on his motorcycle to speed to the airport (Don’t Drink and Drive, folks). The graphic countdown changing colors as it raced past the agreed-upon 48-hour deadline was pure gold. Then, it finished up with Carmen Electra pantomiming hiding behind some blankets as Michael Jordan stormed into their hotel room to drag Dennis out of there. I know Rodman is a tertiary character in this whole saga, and the filmmakers still devoted essentially two episodes to him, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me.
Tyler Monahan: The Dennis Rodman story about his trip to Las Vegas in the middle of the season was incredible. Everything about him, from the relationship with Carmen Electra to drinking Miller Lite’s before taking off on a motorcycle, just proves that he is the most interesting personality in sports history.
Daniel Olinger: The old-school hip hop to go along with the highlights. Having LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad” blasting while MJ went off for 63 made those two of the coolest minutes of my entire life, and Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now” is a personal favorite. We had a VHS called “Stars of the NBA” that showed tons of highlight reels from the best players of the ‘80s (which I must have watched in full at least once a week), and by far the best was Hakeem Olajuwon’s reel that would play “How Ya Like Me Now” to clips of the Dream dunking on helpless defenders.
What is the most interesting thing you learned for the first time by watching the documentary?
SK: Jerry Krause literally told Phil Jackson, “I don’t care if you go 82-0, you’re not coming back here.” Imagine saying that to someone who had already won you five championships, all because you wanted to bring in Tim Floyd. Tim Floyd! I felt sympathetic towards Krause during those scenes where Jordan ruthlessly bullied him about his physical appearance. But you can’t deny Krause’s ego likely got in the way of at least a couple more titles in Chicago. I always knew that fact in the abstract, but to see it laid out so starkly in that quote was jarring.
TM: Looking back at Jordan’s early years, it was interesting to see how the Bulls organization dealt with his broken foot. He risked a potential career-ending injury to get back on the court early, hiding the fact that he was training for weeks beforehand without the Bulls’ knowledge. It’s crazy to think the story of Michael Jordan could have ended so much differently due to this one small thing.
DO: That Michael played golf with Danny Ainge prior to the 63-point game. I’d already read about most of the other stuff mentioned in the doc so far — stuff like Pippen’s family poverty and the whole Rodman experience — but when Ainge said he and MJ played golf, I immediately thought to myself, “I don’t think that’s ever been revealed to us in the 34 years since it happened.”
What previous Sixers season would you most like to have a Last Dance-style documentary about?
SK: It pains me to go a year earlier than Allen Iverson’s May 2002 rant about “practice,” but for the pure basketball stakes, I have to go with the 2000-01 season. I want to see the Sixers locker room after the stepover and the Game 1 Finals victory. I want an entire episode on the 2001 All-Star game, when All-Star MVP Allen Iverson scored 15 of his 25 points in the final nine minutes to bring the East back from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to win by one. There would be a Dikembe Mutombo episode — imagine the supercut of all the finger wagging! You would still get all the backstories, so there would be an episode rehashing Iverson’s trial in Virginia, as covered in the excellent 30-for-30, and plenty of time devoted to Aaron McKie having to come drag AI out of Atlantic City casinos or somebody checking in with him at TGI Friday’s. I guess the question is: how has this not been made already?
TM: While the team was terrible, I’d like to see the 2013 Sixers get a Last Dance-style documentary. I’d really like to get some behind-the-scenes footage of Sam Hinkie and the front office in his first year with the team. Plus, I’m sure seeing him trying to get everyone else to buy into “The Process” would make for great television.
DO: In all honesty, it’s probably last year’s team due to the inherent drama that someone like Jimmy Butler creates. I know he and JJ seemingly told the real story on Redick’s pod a while back, but I would love to see other sides to what was a very combustible locker room. I’d also be interested in a retelling of the 1976-77 Sixers season, where they were favorites the entire year, but then blew the 2-0 lead in the Finals after that fight broke out between Maurice Lucas and Chocolate Thunder. I’d want to know what happened with all those flamboyant personalities in the Philly locker room as Portland began to take control of the series.