The first two episodes of The Last Dance aired Sunday night on ESPN and it was fantastic. The 10-part docuseries tells the story of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls but explores the history of those involved in the season. So far, the series has focused on Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen's paths to the top of the NBA and also their issues with Bulls ownership and management.
The first two hours were riveting. Here's a look at five takeaways from the first night.
Jerry Krause Forgot The First Rule Of Being A General Manager
The first segment of the documentary deals with Bulls general manager Jerry Krause and the impressive number of feuds he had going on simultaneously with members of the organization. Krause was at odds with Phil Jackson, Jordan and Scottie Pippen at the same time. After the 1997 championship, Krause wanted to blow the team up and begin a rebuild. He balked at paying Jackson, took veiled shots at Jordan in the press and had an openly-hostile relationship to the point where Pippen demanded a trade during the 1997-98 season.
In the end it's clear Krause forgot the No. 1 rule when you're a general manager: it's not about you. Yes, organizations win championships, but players and coaches are the most important part of that equation. Krause was actively working to undermine Jackson and Jordan had no desire to play for anyone else. He knew exactly what he was doing and it eventually ended in disaster as the Bulls collapsed as an organization after winning the title in 1998. They haven't reached the NBA Finals since.
The documentary lays out Krause's issues and why the players and coaches mistrusted him and felt like they were working to thwart his plans.
There's So Much Great Footage
The breadth and depth of the footage in the first two episodes is incredible. Director Jason Hehir has collated what had to be an incredible amount of film to produce this thing. There are videos of Jordan and others dating back to their high school days and all the way through college and their early NBA years. This documentary is, at its heart, about the 1997-98 season, but it has so far covered the entire lives of the main characters. The depth is so impressive and had to have taken forever to put together.
Bob Knight Was Way Ahead Of Everyone Else
One great scene shows Bob Knight discussing Jordan in an interview. Knight coached Jordan at the 1984 Summer Olympics and Knight declared that Jordan was the best basketball player he'd ever seen play. Check it out:
Remember, this was in 1984 before Jordan had ever played in the NBA. It was a stunning statement at the time but it turns out Knight maybe knew a thing or two about basketball.
Then there's this fun story:
The Music Is Fantastic
The first two episodes of the series had some great music and the 80s and 90s hip-hop that was plugged in elevated the scenes in front of us. Eric B. & Rakim's "I Ain't No Joke" and LL Cool J's "I'm Bad" and Diddy, The Notorious B.I.G. and Mase's "Been Around the World" stood out. The music punctuated big moments and perfectly-placed.
Perhaps most startling was the fact that it seemed like everyone participated. Jordan's teammates are involved, they got family members, executives from across the NBA, college coaches, his opponents, heck two former presidents of the United States were thrown in as quick interviews for some color.
I mean, they got Patrick Ewing to break down Jordan's game-winning shot from the 1982 NCAA title game. They got Roy Williams to describe recruiting and coaching Jordan at North Carolina -- by the way, I could listen to Williams talk about Jordan for the whole 10 hours. Danny Ainge and Larry Bird discussed facing Jordan in the first round of the 1986 NBA playoffs. There's so many more, but those were just the highlights. And, like I said, they had the 42nd and 44th presidents of the United States talking basketball.
It's truly incredible how many people participated in it and we're only through two episodes.