Apr 14, 2020 6 min read

'The Last Dance': Five things we know about the Michael Jordan documentary

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What is Midway Minute? It’s a daily Chicago sports newsletter that has quickly become part of the morning routine for many Chicago sports fans. I’ll be publishing recaps of each night of “The Last Dance” and signing up is a guaranteed way to get those reviews in your inbox every Monday morning. (Plus you’ll get a lot of other fun stuff about Chicago sports. What are you waiting for?)

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The curtain gets pulled back even further

The first two episodes of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” premiere this Sunday night and I can’t be much more excited. I’ve kept my eyes open for any and all information about the project and Monday brought the best reveal yet as The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch got some access with director Jason Hehir. Deitsch has also seen the first eight episodes of the series and says “it is going to be a critical hit.”

Deitsch’s resulting piece revealed a few things we previously didn’t know.

Among them:

1. MJ sat for three separate interviews — and they were emotional

Obviously this thing would have only totally worked with Jordan’s participation. But for those who worried Jordan might have shook his interviewers off easier than he did Byron Russell, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Three separate interviews were conducted over the course of 18 months and at least one became so emotional that MJ needed to ask for a break.

“To get something that raw, candid, honest and genuine out of him that early in the interview process was kind of a turning point for all of us in the crew,” Hehir told Deitsch. “We all thought: ‘Wow this could be something a little bit different than just basketball. It looks like he came to participate and understands what we’re trying to do here.’”

2. The episodes are arranged by month

I’ve been super curious about how the narrative would be laid out across 10 episodes and Hehir told Deitsch it was the biggest challenge of the project. The unseen NBA Entertainment footage from the 1997-98 season serves as the framework to tell the story of Jordan and his dynasty. And so each of the hour-long episodes centers around a month of that season, starting in October 1997 and going through all the way to June 1998. (Episodes 8 and 9 were needed to cover May since that month included a couple of pivotal playoff series.)

3. Jordan is afraid of what we’ll think when we see how he treated Scott Burrell during the 1998 season

Seriously. Burrell was a NBA journeyman who joined the Bulls for the 1998 run and Jordan told Hehir he was merciless on him during practice and that he was hesitant to participate in the documentary at first because of what people will see.

As Hehir recounted Jordan saying:

‘When you see the footage of it, you’re going to think that I’m a horrible guy. But you have to realize that the reason why I was treating (Burrell) like that is because I needed him to be tough in the playoffs and we’re facing the Indiana’s and Miami’s and New York’s in the Eastern Conference. He needed to be tough and I needed to know that I could count on him. And those are the kind of things where people see me acting the way I acted in practice, they’re not going to understand it.’

4. We won’t hear from his wives or kids

Jordan has been married twice and has a total of five children. But none of them were on Hehir’s interview list. His mother and siblings, however, sat for interviews. “I wasn’t interested in the opinion of any wife or kids in this,” Hehir told Deitsch. Whether or not keeping wives and kids off-limits was a condition of Jordan’s involvement isn’t answered. It’ll be interesting to see if we feel like the absence is noticeable.

5. A total of 106 people were interviewed for the project

Deitsch has the full list and it ranges from two presidents (Clinton and Obama) to fellow NBA legends (Kobe Bryant was interviewed a week before his death) to peripheral characters like Scott Burrell and Dennis Rodman’s girlfriend Carmen Electra. Hehir said every interview needed a real tie to the story and it’s not hard to justify that many interviews when you’re covering a dynasty that took up the better part of a decade and continues to have a cultural impact more than 20 years later. This doc is really going to be something to watch.

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The Bulls made it official on Monday: Gar Forman was fired after more than two decades with the organization, the last 10 years of which he served as GM. Both Forman and Jerry Reinsdorf released amicable statements and Forman will still get paid for the next two years.

Is Jim Boylen next on the nice severance check list? That remains to be seen. New VP of player ops Arturas Karnisovas is scheduled to make his first Chicago media appearance on the Mully & Haugh show this morning at 8:30 and I’d expect the Boylen question to come up within the first two or three asks.

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How the Nuggets paved the way for Karnisovas to make the jump. (Denver Post)

• Ryan Padgett was an all-Big Ten guard on Northwestern’s Rose Bowl team in 1995. Now a doctor in the Seattle area, he was also one of the first two ER docs to be hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19. (New York Times)

Patrick Kane did the big NHL media call on Monday and revealed how he’s been spending his lockdown: Working out in his building, rekindling his love of video games and watching reruns of the 2010 Cup run. (NHL.com)

Sammy Sosa told a Spanish-speaking radio station that he had Dusty Baker’s permission to leave on the final day of the 2004 season. (NBC Sports)

Shannon Ryan on what Gene Honda does when there’s no games to work. (Tribune)

• Hey whaddya know? Zach LaVine does know rings. Nice work, man.

The XFL still owes Marc Trestman $777,000. (Tampa Bay Times)

• This is cool: Radio clips from Michael Jordan’s first at-bat and hit with the Birmingham Barons. (Curt Bloom)

• #Frentofthenewsletter Matt Snyder is putting together all-time lineups over at CBS Sports and he just put together the White Sox slate, which includes both Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas. The Cubs come up on Thursday. (CBS Sports)

• How are you marking Greg Maddux’s 54th birthday? MLB Network is showing a bunch of his games, including his 300th win — an 8-4 Cubs win in San Francisco on August 7, 2004. The broadcast starts at 9 am CT. Here’s the box score. (MLB Network)

The Wieners Circle staff can’t serve food, so they’re producing a newscast on YouTube instead. I’d say this is NSFW … but, well, you’re probably not at work. Just make sure your kids have earmuffs. (YouTube)

• Still the two greatest pictures ever taken in the White House. God bless Jimmy Mac.

That’s it for today. Have a great Tuesday and, as always, thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter.

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Kevin Kaduk
Kevin Kaduk
Kevin is the founder of Midway Minute.

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