The Last Dance is a 2020 American sports documentary miniseries co-produced by ESPN Films and Netflix. Directed by Jason Hehir, the series revolves around the career of Michael Jordan, with particular focus on the 1997–98 season, his final season with the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The series features exclusive footage from a film crew that had an all-access pass to the Bulls, as well as interviews of many NBA personalities, including Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Phil Jackson.
|The Last Dance|
|Directed by||Jason Hehir|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||10|
|Running time||48–50 minutes|
|Release||April 19 –|
May 17, 2020
The series aired on ESPN from April 19 to May 17, 2020, in the United States, while its episodes were released on Netflix internationally the day after their US airings; beginning on May 23, two episodes were aired back-to-back on ESPN's corporate partner ABC. ESPN2 aired an alternate version of the series intended for family viewing, which removed most of the profanity heard in the episodes. The series became available on Netflix on July 19, 2020.
It received critical acclaim, with praise for its directing and editing. The Last Dance won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series at the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards.
This is the list of the 90 persons interviewed for the documentary, ordered by air time.
- Michael Jordan
- Scottie Pippen
- Phil Jackson
- Steve Kerr
- Jerry Reinsdorf
- David Aldridge
- Dennis Rodman
- B. J. Armstrong
- Mark Vancil
- Reggie Miller
- Michael Wilbon
- Andrea Kremer
- John Paxson
- Sam Smith
- Horace Grant
- Rick Telander
- Ahmad Rashad
- Tim Grover
- Rod Thorn
- Deloris Jordan
- Bill Wennington
- Doug Collins
- David Falk
- Isiah Thomas
- Magic Johnson
- Toni Kukoč
- Will Perdue
- Barack Obama (as former Chicago resident)
- J. A. Adande
- George Koehler
- Brian McIntyre
- Bob Costas
- Todd Boyd
- Larry Bird
- John Salley
- Gary Payton
- David Stern
- Ann Kerr
- James Worthy
- Joe O'Neil
- Roy Johnson
- Chip Schaefer
- Kobe Bryant
- Tim Hallam
- Jalen Rose
- Charley Rosen
- Charles Barkley
- John Stockton
- Roy Williams
- Tisher Lett
- Willow Bay
- Carmen Electra
- Bill Cartwright
- Jud Buechler
- Jim Stack
- Mike Barnett
- Scott Burrell
- Terry Francona
- Brendan Malone
- Danny Ainge
- Howard White
- Melissa Isaacson
- Ronnie Martin
- Rod Higgins
- Glen Rice
- Patrick Ewing
- Ronnie Jordan
- Hannah Storm
- Steve East
- Larry Jordan
- Billy Pippen
- Fred Lynch
- Buzz Peterson
- Sidney Moncrief
- Ron Harper
- John A. Hefferon
- Bill Clinton (as former Arkansas Governor)
- Pat Riley
- Adam Silver
- Marcus Jordan
- Joe Kleine
- Charles Oakley
- Jasmine Jordan
- Justin Timberlake
- Billy Packer
- Ron Coley
- Joe Pytka
- Kevin Loughery
- Jeffrey Jordan
|No.||Title||Directed by||Original air date ||U.S. viewers|
|1||"Episode I"||Jason Hehir||April 19, 2020||5.73|
|Flashbacks chronicle Michael Jordan's college and early NBA days. The Bulls make a preseason trip to Paris amid tension with GM Jerry Krause.|
|2||"Episode II"||Jason Hehir||April 19, 2020||5.12|
|Scottie Pippen rises to become one of the NBA's best players. An injury early in Jordan's career shows distrust with Bulls management.|
|3||"Episode III"||Jason Hehir||April 26, 2020||5.31|
|Dennis Rodman's attitude and energy help the team win, but bring the drama off the court. The Bulls struggle to overcome the Pistons in the late '80s.|
|4||"Episode IV"||Jason Hehir||April 26, 2020||4.86|
|Phil Jackson's unique philosophy and demeanor take the Bulls to the next level. The team finally gets past Detroit and earns a shot at an NBA title, which is a dream matchup against Magic Johnson and the Lakers.|
|5||"Episode V"||Jason Hehir||May 3, 2020||4.91|
|From Air Jordan and Be Like Mike to the 1992 NBA Finals and the Olympic dream team, Jordan becomes a global cultural icon unlike any other.|
|6||"Episode VI"||Jason Hehir||May 3, 2020||4.44|
|A revealing book and scrutiny of his gambling put a dent in Jordan's reputation, but he remains focused on winning a third straight title in 1993.|
|7||"Episode VII"||Jason Hehir||May 10, 2020||4.41|
|Crushed by the death of his father, a mentally exhausted Jordan retires in 1993 – to play baseball. The Bulls move on with Pippen in the lead role.|
|8||"Episode VIII"||Jason Hehir||May 10, 2020||4.16|
|Jordan's return energizes the Bulls, the city and the NBA, but a playoff loss in 1995 fuels him to work harder than ever to get back on top; this is rewarded with their fourth NBA championship over Seattle in 1996, after a record-breaking 72-win season.|
|9||"Episode IX"||Jason Hehir||May 17, 2020||5.02|
|The Bulls face stiff challenges to their reign in 1997 against Utah and in 1998 versus Indiana. Role player Steve Kerr makes his mark on the dynasty.|
|10||"Episode X"||Jason Hehir||May 17, 2020||4.59|
|Battered and exhausted, the Bulls conclude their "Last Dance" with a sixth championship. Jordan, Jackson, and others reflect on the end of their dynasty.|
Production and release edit
The series features both interviews and never-released footage from the 1997–98 Chicago Bulls season. Over 500 hours of all-access footage was filmed and used to create the 10 part documentary series. According to Adam Silver (now NBA Commissioner, but then the head of NBA Entertainment), Jordan allowed the filming with the agreement that the footage would only be used with his direct permission. After many years, and many refusals from Jordan, he agreed in 2016 to a documentary proposal from Mike Tollin.
ESPN and Netflix announced their joint production of the 10-part documentary series in May 2018, with the first official trailer being released on December 25, 2018. The release date was pushed back to June 2020 after another trailer was released in December 2019. However, because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, ESPN published the final trailer on March 31, 2020 and expedited the premiere to April 19, 2020, releasing the following statement:
As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience. We've heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that. This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.
The series was released weekly from April 19, 2020 to May 17, 2020, with two episodes airing each Sunday. Outside of the United States, the episodes were released on Netflix the day after their ESPN airing. ESPN2 aired a censored version of the documentary alongside the ESPN broadcast. The censored version was also aired on ABC.
According to Hehir, Jordan refused to film interviews in his home to maintain privacy. The interviews were filmed in three houses, one rented by the production and two others which were homes of friends of the production. The fifth episode is dedicated to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. Bryant's interview was featured in the episode's opening.
Critical response edit
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 97% based on 62 reviews, with an average rating of 8.85/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "A compelling and comprehensive portrait of one of basketball's great teams, The Last Dance's blend of archival footage and candid interviews confirms there's nobody quite like Mike or the team he led to victory." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the series a score of 91 out of 100 based on 12 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Writing for Consequence of Sound, Robert Daniels gave The Last Dance a perfect score, calling the series "beautifully composed and edited together" and a "pulsating celebration of greatness." Similarly, Alex Pattle of The Independent praised director Jason Hehir, writing that "Hehir's fear of being formulaic fosters a compelling freshness, and his ability to subtly segue between tones ensures Jordan's auras of magnetism and intensity are highlighted at the appropriate moments", while Brian Lowry of CNN gave the series five stars out of five, saying that "it's a very, very deep dive, but for fans who will eat this stuff up, it hits all the right notes."
Chicago Sun-Times's Richard Roeper gave the series three and a half stars out of four, writing that "while some might question whether even one of the great team sports dynasties of all time merits such a lengthy treatment, if anything each episode left me wanting more. Not only were the Bulls a team for the ages, they also gave us a sports soap opera for the ages." Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter gave the series a positive review, writing that "it's a tremendously engaging, ridiculously fun assemblage of spectacular basketball footage and reasonably introspective interviews with almost everybody you'd hope to hear from on the subject." Writing for The New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote that "Hehir has this trick where any time someone says something debatable or controversial or simply worthy of running by [Michael] Jordan, he hands him an iPad and makes him watch what was said. And every time Hehir does it, Jordan turns the reaction into gold. He's an incredulous Zeus in these moments, lightning bolts falling from his toga as he laughs, zapping lesser gods."
Conversely, filmmaker Ken Burns criticized Michael Jordan's involvement in the production of the series, saying that "if you are there influencing the very fact of it getting made, it means that certain aspects that you don't necessarily want in aren't going to be in [...] and that's not the way you do good journalism." Specifically, Burns pointed to Jordan's production company, Jump 23, being listed as a partner in the series. Hehir would respond to such speculations stating "I ran into zero stop signs in the editorial process. Michael was involved, but in a distant satellite-level while making it. He never came close to the editing room and only received cuts as they were about to go on air. I think Michael is above the fray when it comes to what he wants in and out.”
Response from the basketball community edit
While the series drew positive reactions from many current NBA players, several players featured in the documentary were critical of how they were portrayed. Scottie Pippen was reportedly "wounded and disappointed" by his characterization, though he did not make any public remarks during the documentary's airing. Pippen later denied any rift between himself and Jordan over the documentary; however, he told Jordan he was not pleased with the docuseries and considered it to be "about Michael trying to uplift himself and to be glorified". Jordan accepted Pippen's opinion, saying "hey, you’re right".
Horace Grant expressed a belief that the documentary was edited to favor Jordan, remarking that the series was "entertaining, but we know [...] that about 90% of it [was] BS in terms of the realness of it"; he also denied Jordan's accusation that Grant was the source for The Jordan Rules and agreed that Pippen was portrayed unfairly. Craig Hodges, who was not interviewed for the documentary, was "bothered" by Jordan's comments about the team's use of cocaine during the 1980s, remarking, "I was thinking about the brothers who [were on the team] with you who have to explain [what happened] to their families".
Some expressed disappointment over the omission of starting center Luc Longley in the series, and a 2021 episode of Australian Story was released with Longley's response, including interviews with ex-teammates such as Pippen and Jordan. There was also criticism on the overemphasis of Steve Kerr—a minor player on the Bulls last championship team—due to his recent success as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, with it being compared to if ESPN did a documentary on the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers and placed Tony Dungy (who like Kerr had a successful head coaching career but a forgettable playing career) in the same company as Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert. Kerr himself admitted that they emphasized him more than what was needed.
US ratings edit
For the 2019–20 television season, the show tied for fifth among adults 18–49 in the Nielsen ratings with This Is Us, averaging a 2.9 rating and 15 share. It also placed 55th in total viewership, averaging 6.71 million viewers. Variety dubbed the show's performance a "consolation prize" for ESPN given the network's struggle to find live sports. The series also became ESPN's most-watched documentary.
The Last Dance : U.S. viewers per episode (millions)
|No.||Title||Air date||Timeslot (ET)||Rating
|1||"Episode I"||April 19, 2020||Sunday 9:00 p.m.||2.6||5.73||0.6||1.51||3.2||7.25|||
|2||"Episode II"||April 19, 2020||Sunday 10:00 p.m.||2.3||5.17||0.7||1.62||3.0||6.73|||
|3||"Episode III"||April 26, 2020||Sunday 9:00 p.m.||2.3||5.31||0.8||1.68||3.1||6.99|||
|4||"Episode IV"||April 26, 2020||Sunday 10:00 p.m.||2.1||4.86||0.9||2.04||3.1||6.90|||
|5||"Episode V"||May 3, 2020||Sunday 9:00 p.m.||2.1||4.91||0.8||1.78||2.8||6.68|||
|6||"Episode VI"||May 3, 2020||Sunday 10:00 p.m.||1.9||4.44||0.9||2.00||2.7||6.43|||
|7||"Episode VII"||May 10, 2020||Sunday 9:00 p.m.||1.9||4.41||0.9||1.88||2.8||6.29|||
|8||"Episode VIII"||May 10, 2020||Sunday 10:00 p.m.||1.8||4.16||1.0||2.23||2.8||6.39|||
|9||"Episode IX"||May 17, 2020||Sunday 9:00 p.m.||2.1||5.02||0.8||1.75||2.8||6.77|||
|10||"Episode X"||May 17, 2020||Sunday 10:00 p.m.||1.9||4.59||0.9||1.98||2.7||6.57|||
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref.|
|AAFCA Awards||August 22, 2020||Best Documentary||The Last Dance||Won[a]|||
|American Cinema Editors Awards||April 17, 2021||Best Edited Documentary (Non-Theatrical)||Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Abhay Sofsky and Ben Sozanski (for "Episode 1")||Won|||
|Cinema Eye Honors||March 9, 2021||Outstanding Broadcast Series||The Last Dance||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Editing in a Broadcast Film or Series||Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Abhay Sofsky and Ben Sozanski||Nominated|
|Creative Arts Emmy Awards||September 14, 2020||Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series||Jason Hehir, Michael Tollin, Estee Portnoy, Curtis Polk, Connor Schell, Gregg Winik and Andrew Thompson||Won|||
|Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program||Jason Hehir (for "Episode 7")||Nominated|
|Outstanding Picture Editing for a Nonfiction Program||Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Abhay Sofsky and Ben Sozanski (for "Episode 1")||Nominated|
|Golden Reel Awards||April 16, 2021||Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Non-Theatrical Documentary||Keith Hodne (for "Episode 1")||Nominated|||
|NAACP Image Awards||March 22–27, 2021||Outstanding Documentary – Television||The Last Dance||Won|||
|Producers Guild of America Awards||March 24, 2021||Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television||The Last Dance||Won|||
|TCA Awards||September 14, 2020||Outstanding Achievement in News and Information||The Last Dance||Won|||
See also edit
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