“The Last Dance” shifts modern discussions of NBA greats

Loki Olin

On April 19th, ESPN premiered The Last Dance, a ten-part documentary that has offered basketball fans worldwide consolation for the NBA’s suspended season. The documentary covers the 1997-98 NBA season in which Michael Jordan secured his sixth and final championship with the Chicago Bulls. In addition to attracting viewers who lived through Jordan’s glory days, it has exposed younger fans to an era with which they previously may have been unfamiliar – reshaping modern discussions of the sport’s greatest players.

In his Periscope Livestream titled Late Night with Wob, NBA media personality Rob Perez acknowledged that The Last Dance may influence fans’ rankings of the greatest players of all time. “Recency bias is a plague in 2020,” said Perez. “Now that [fans] are seeing Jordan play they’re saying ‘you know what, maybe he is the greatest.’”

“Before I watched it, I was wavering between Lebron [James] and Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time,” said Quentin Bone ‘22. “But I think it’s Michael Jordan. Watching it now, I just realized how nice he was at basketball – he was so dirty.”

“We didn’t grow up getting to watch Jordan, so for me, it has been really interesting to get that perspective,” said Jack Setrakian ‘21. “I definitely am a lot more starstruck by Jordan now that I’ve gotten that inside look.”

The documentary has familiarized fans with Jordan’s greatness, but gone further to introduce viewers to Jordan’s ruthless desire for competition. “I didn’t quite realize how competitive he was,” Bone said. “He believed in himself so he would win no matter what.”

The documentary includes footage of Jordan cursing out teammates and even mocking members of the Chicago Bulls’ front office. “It’s interesting to see that he was not the nicest guy, because [before the documentary], I had the idea that he was the nice guy,” Setrakian said.

“I was surprised by how much of a hardass he was,” Setrakian said. “But in order to be the best that’s how you have to be sometimes.”

When episode 5 aired on May 3, many viewers caught a glimpse of retired NBA players in their playing primes for the first time. Charles Barkley, now a television broadcaster on TNT, also enjoyed a long and dominant NBA career – a surprise to many. “I didn’t even know Barkley was nice like dat until now,” tweeted NBA impersonator Max Peranidze (@maxisnicee).

“I thought Charles Barkley was just an oldhead who liked to talk smack about young players, but he and [former NBA player] John Stockton were actually dirty,” Bone said.

Still, some feel that the documentary paints too pretty a picture for Jordan himself. “The point of the doc is to glorify Michael Jordan but I think he comes off a bit cocky even though he is arguably the greatest of all time,” said Dustin Bobila ‘20. “The story is a bit one-sided.”

Though the documentary has influenced many debates over the sport’s greatest player, the conversation to determine the GOAT is not one that will end anytime soon. “I’m sure LeBron would dominate in Michael Jordan’s era and Jordan would dominate in LeBron’s era,” Bobila said. “It’s just an impossible thing to compare.”