How good is 'The Last Dance?'

Marc Elliott

WILSON LAKE… When the ESPN hype machine kicks into high gear it can be heard the entire sports world over. For myself, I’ve had an on and off relationship with the network over the years. When they first came into existence anyone fascinated by sports was thrilled to observe this new medium. As time went forth, and in going for as much exposure and growth as was possible, the network had some missteps but continued on until they did indeed become “The Leader” in sports coverage and news. That they gave themselves that moniker earned them some contempt in some circles, but with no one really challenging them on that, the tag stuck.

As with all ventures there would come a time when the network may have suffered from some overexposure, and considering that they were then trying to fill upwards of 3 channels with 24/7 content and programming, the product got stale and seemed to lack direction. They did televise and somewhat promote my beloved NHL years back, on the other hand, it was also abundantly clear to me that hockey was the one of the four major sports that got the least attention from the network.

Then, in what I can only refer to as misguided, they began to fill out their programming by televising poker tournaments. This began their descent into irrelevance in my sports viewing world.

I recall looking at a weekly format of theirs back then that included 167 hours of poker programming. I was incredulous.

Nothing against poker, and I must admit that playing cards or even board games were ever of much interest to me, but poker isn’t a “sport,” it is a game of chance.
Not long after that, when the NHL started to air their games elsewhere, my ESPN viewing went down to just about zero. Their endless self promotion, their crowning of themselves as the “Leader” and other minor offenses basically removed them from my sports radar. And that’s not to say that they haven’t achieved some great things when it comes to sports broadcasting and journalism, because they have, I’d be being dishonest with you to say otherwise.

So, placing my ESPN indifference aside, they are currently airing a docu-series titled The Last Dance. It chronicles the final season of the Chicago Bulls NBA twin 3-peats of the 1990s.

The focus is on the 97-98 season of the club and what Coach Phil Jackson named it when it was determined by the team management that Jackson would be coaching his last go round in Chi-town. There is much speculation as to why the team decided it was time to fold the tent after that year, but the only thing that makes any sense is that if the team won the NBA title again, creating twin 3-peats within an eight-year span, that it was going to cost a fortune to bring the team back intact. Management wasn’t interested in that and used the excuse that the team would be on the decline beyond that year. I think not. I believe that group had one or two more titles in it.

The doc does an excellent job thus far with using cutbacks to previous seasons and personnel to create a crescendo that will take the viewers up to the tenth and final episode of the series.

After six episodes, it hasn’t actually answered the question as to why a team’s management would purposefully break up a dynasty that appeared to be anything but finished, but I don’t believe we are going to ever get the real answer to that. So, the best thing to do is to sit back and enjoy one heck of a lot of footage from behind the scenes, much of which hasn’t been viewed before.

My own NBA viewing had mostly centered around the career of Hibbing’s Kevin McHale, who was a Golden Gopher great, and went on to become one of the league’s 50 best ever, as well as a 3-time NBA Champion with the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the eighties was must-see TV at the time. But when the ‘90s Bulls run took shape, I quickly latched on to that too, fascinated by the players and personalities of that club.

Of course, the central character within all of this, Michael Jordan, was as magnetic a sports personality as there ever was. By the time Chicago began to win titles, he was already a global icon. In fact the doc alludes to the fact that there are most likely only three athletes in history that are known globally by a singular name –  Ali, Ruth and Jordan.

The soccer world would demand that Pele be added to that list, and I wouldn’t disagree with that.

With four more episodes to go I have been riveted to this and the ratings have been more than favorable for the network.

Of course, with the sports world all but shut down at this time sports diehards were going to latch on to this no matter what. Make no mistake though, this documentary stands on it’s own two feet. There are no holds barred, no censoring of language that otherwise would get the beep button and no topics were off limits, nor did Jordan himself ever exercise his power to delete any part of the content.

I very much enjoyed the Bulls run back then, and now, getting to see the back stories and behind the scenes footage has brought it all back. I can’t wait to see the final installments of this great series.

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THE NHL HAS YET to make any decisions on how and when to proceed with a conclusion to the regular season and then transition to a Stanley Cup tourney. But there has been plenty of “chatter” of such the past week. The latest rumors have the league scrapping the remainder of the regular season and entering into a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament.

This scenario could feature a best-of-three play in format. No matter what the league looks into though, obstacles abound.

If not completing the regular season goes forward, there will be unfulfilled TV commitments. If the league opts to play games in a “hub city” format, there could be border-crossing issues.

I have heard that there is some support for a late May resumption of play.

Is that too soon? What if a “second wave” of the virus suddenly took place?

Would the league be forced to halt operations a second time?

It truly is a difficult situation for all involved.

The games would be held in empty arenas, and I wonder if the tournament would get the type of TV ratings the NHL would normally see. I’d watch, but I’m a hockey addict for which there is no known cure.

This is obviously a most difficult matter with no easy solutions for any one facet of it. While some of the populace grows impatient, I believe we need to err on the side of caution.

Stay safe my friends… PEACE