The Last Dance Episodes 1 and 2 review: One last time

ESPN’s highly anticipated documentary epic admirably fills the void of content sports fans have desperately been looking for. Here’s a look at the highs and lows of The Last Dance Episodes 1 and 2.

The modern-day landscape of entertainment — especially in sports — is littered with tremendous amounts of overreactions. We’re always ready to declare something the greatest thing we’ve ever seen; there’s a seemingly consistent desire to proclaim what we’re witnessing as “the one” that rises above all others. The Last Dance, however, is something that actually lives up to this trend. Not necessarily in its quality, but in its subject matter. There are very few athletes, or even general celebrities, that would reasonably justify a 10-episode documentary, but Michael Jordan is exactly that.

I’m not going to get into the whole Jordan vs. Lebron debate, which is largely unimportant and I — as the possessor of the radical opinion that Lebron hasn’t retired yet, therefore meaning this can’t be decided — genuinely believe this documentary is more than just sports. Michael Jordan was a tenacious, one-of-a-kind competitor that remains a figment of all culture in general. Given the epidemic the world is currently facing, it seems like this story is more appreciated now than ever. What’s even better, however, is that The Last Dance lives up the expectations it’s only just begun.

The documentary is focused around the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls on their quest to win yet another NBA championship, featuring behind-the-scenes footage that the Bulls granted permission to a camera crew to film. Of course, this is just the main vehicle the documentary uses as a stepping stone to discuss everything pertaining to Michael Jordan. The first two episodes mainly focus on Jordan’s early childhood, his college days, and his immediate impact as a rookie. But throughout all of this, we’re given more context like we haven’t really seen in this fashion before.

Of course, there aren’t just purely basketball storylines on display here. One of the biggest takeaways might be the relentless bashing of Jerry Krause, who was the Bulls general manager at the time. Jordan and teammate Scottie Pippen are somewhat vicious in describing their feelings toward the late GM, but there’s something authentic about it. After all, this was before the current player-empowerment era of the league, so these types of dynamics were more present at the time.

Some other highlights during the two episodes include Jordan’s reaction to an old “Bulls traveling cocaine circus” article, input from former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and perhaps most importantly, kickass game highlights set to music from LL Cool J and Rakim. But really, the strength of the documentary comes from its fundamental understanding of our love, as fans, for Michael Jordan. Just seeing the guy talk about his experiences, even if a tad vague, makes for compelling television. It’s clear that he’s being himself, and there’s something irresistible about his personality and mindset when it comes to winning.

Everything from a technical perspective feels fine-tuned, appropriate, and consistent throughout. It feels grand, important, and appropriately so, but not something that exactly stands apart from other sports documentaries. Aside from it being about Michael Jordan, there’s nothing in the first two episodes that make it feel like it’s more than just a sports documentary. Perhaps it doesn’t, and there’s a self-awareness in the fact that there is no need for it to try to be something more than it is, because simply chronicling the career of one of the premier athletes in the world is unique enough.

But what makes the beginning episodes of The Last Dance so exciting is exactly that: they’re only the beginning. These first two episodes, while engaging enough for basketball fanatics like myself, aren’t necessarily the type of subject matter that is enthralling to all types of viewers. Given the length of the documentary, however, there’s reason to believe that the even more raw, unfiltered, and potentially controversial sides of Jordan will take over. That’s where the true intrigue lies, especially given the other topics and career moments that haven’t even been touched on yet.

Watching the first two episodes of The Last Dance is appointment viewing for sports fans, but will it leave a lasting impact? Will it simply reaffirm the beliefs of Jordan believers and appreciators that already existed and showcase the legacy to a new generation? Or will it not only be an entertaining historical piece for sports nerds, but also something that makes you think differently and genuinely offers information that surprises throughout?

Can it possibly do both? Can we get the definitive documentary for the definitive athlete? With upcoming episodes set to focus on the zany and fascinating background of teammate Dennis Rodman and the sage wisdom of Phil Jackson, there’s certainly reason to believe so.

There is an obvious sky-high potential given its subject, but only time will tell whether or not The Last Dance ends up in the upper echelon of sports documentaries with the likes of Hoop Dreams, When We Were Kings, and OJ: Made in America, and others.

Episodes of The Last Dance continue every Sunday at 9 pm ET on ESPN and ESPN2.