On Sunday night, Chicago sports fans were treated to the much-anticipated premiere of an ESPN documentary series chronicling Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls.
The 10-part series “The Last Dance” was originally slated to air in June, but ESPN moved that date up after the NBA season was put on hold due to the pandemic. The first two episodes aired Sunday night, and the response from many fans has been overwhelming excitement.
Melissa Isaacson, a former Bulls beat writer for the Chicago Tribune who’s now on the faculty at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, covered the team throughout all six championship seasons. She says it’s hard to overstate how much of a superstar Jordan was in those days.
“I think it’s going to show a generation like my students at Northwestern what all the fuss was about, why we call Michael the greatest of all time … you couldn’t watch Michael Jordan every night and not know you were watching something incredible,” said Isaacson, the author of “State: A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation,” “Sweet Lou: Lou Piniella: a Life in Baseball” and “Transition Game: An Inside Look at Life with the Chicago Bulls.”
Though the documentary’s focus is the 1997-98 season, in the first two episodes the events leading up to the team’s final championship takes a backseat to examining Jordan’s childhood and early career, as well as that of Scottie Pippen. The tense relationship between the players and the front office, particularly general manager Jerry Krause, is also brought in as context.
“There was always somebody in conflict with the front office,” recalls Isaacson. “If it wasn’t Scottie it was Phil, if it wasn’t Phil it was Horace, if it wasn’t Horace it was Michael. So there was a very open dislike of Jerry Krause which was documented very well last night and I think we’ll see more of that play out.”
So far, Isaacson (who makes an appearance herself in a later episode) says she’s eager to watch the remaining episodes. “I think the director and producers did a masterful job based on the first two parts last night. I was mesmerized—you couldn’t take your eyes away.”