The past month has been really rough for someone like myself who has few interests outside of sports. I really didn’t realize how much of my life was filled with sports until all that space turned into an empty void with the cancellation of all sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the nation and the globe.
I’ve felt like an addict going cold turkey. I just desperately want to watch a live sporting event of some kind. I’ve been watching a ton of old games during this time, but those can only be enjoyed so much when you already know what happens. So it’s been tough. I’ve been keeping sports in my life, but there hasn’t been any real excitement for me, until this weekend
On Sunday night, ESPN debuted the first two parts of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary about the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the ‘90s and, specifically, their 1997-98 season. The miniseries was supposed to come out in June, but ESPN decided to release it early to give sports fans something new to watch during this time without sports.
Say what you want about ESPN, because a lot of what they do is brutal, but I have to give them credit here. Sunday night was the first time since the pandemic started that I was genuinely excited about watching something on TV. ESPN marketed the hell out of this documentary to raise the hype around it, and I think it worked.
The national ratings haven’t been released yet, but I have to imagine that it was one of television’s biggest audiences of the year so far. It seemed like everybody on social media was talking about it in real time, something you usually only see during the Super Bowl and other championship events.
There are a few reasons why the hype surrounding the release of “The Last Dance” was unlike anything I’ve ever really seen regarding sports documentaries. The first and most obvious one is that sports fans like myself are starving for new content during this time and would literally watch anything new that is sports-related.
The second is that ESPN has been teasing this series for almost a year now and has been advertising for it since last December. When this pandemic escalated, one of the first announcements ESPN made was that the release date was being moved up. Ever since then, I have been seeing so much Bulls and Michael Jordan content all over the sports media, obviously intended to make people excited for this.
The other reason is that I don’t believe we’ve ever seen a sports documentary of this magnitude. This is like a 30 for 30 on steroids. When “O.J.: Made in America” came out a few years ago — which is awesome, by the way, and definitely worth the watch — I thought that was an in-depth documentary, and that was only five parts. This is double, and it’s about a topic that most sports fans know about but would love to know more.
I know for me, Michael Jordan and the ‘90s Bulls have almost an aura around them that makes them seem almost mystical. The success they achieved — six championships in eight years — made them godlike in the world of sports. So to actually see and hear from the people involved with those teams to find out what actually happened is awesome, especially considering I wasn’t around to witness it.
So far, the first two parts were everything I was hoping for and more. I love hearing Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and others recall events based on how they remember things. Plus, seeing the locker room and practice footage that was never open to the public is really cool. The deep dive into each player’s individual story intertwined with the team story of that last ride in 1997-98 is exactly what this documentary needed to be to do this narrative justice.
“The Last Dance” is shaping up to be an incredible documentary, and I can’t wait for the next eight parts. At a time where the sports world is at a standstill, this is precisely the kind of event we needed.