I don’t really care about basketball. Let’s get that out of the way. I’m more of a soccer guy. Basketball’s high scoring feels just a bit too much. When someone scores in soccer? It’s exhilarating. In basketball? That sensation is dulled.
Then there’s the size thing. In soccer, the world’s greatest player could be 6 feet, 1 inch like Zinedine Zidane, or 5 feet, 6 inches like Maradona. In basketball, almost all the greats are 6 feet, 5 inches or above. To me, that speaks to a sport more focused on physical attributes than pure technique or skill.
But none of that stopped me sitting on Netflix Sunday, refreshing the homepage over and over, waiting for the first two episodes of to drop.
The Last Dance: a new, one-of-a-kind sports documentary, directed by Jason Hehir, focusing on the 1997-1998 NBA season from the perspective of the legendary Chicago Bulls. A series that promises unseen footage of basketball’s most famous team and — more importantly — its most celebrated player, Michael Jordan.
The Last Dance was originally supposed to be released in June of this year, but given the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent— the NBA, the NFL, the EPL, the Olympics — the powers that be decided to do us all a big favor and push the release date forward.
The first two episodes of The Last Dance aired April 19 on ESPN in the US with the remaining eight episodes releasing weekly until mid-May. Everyone else, including me back in Australia, got to watch on Netflix.
The Last Dance is a big deal. For one main reason: 500 hours of all-access footage that’s been sitting in the vaults for well over 20 years. In 1997 Jordan allowed cameras to follow the team throughout the entire season with one caveat: The footage could only be used with his permission. Permission he only granted almost 20 years later in 2016.
Fast-forward to 2020 and me, a man refreshing Netflix for a documentary focused on a sport he only has a passing interest in. My knowledge of basketball begins and ends with the players featured in the classic SNES game NBA Jam, but that barely even matters at this point. I want the Last Dance. I need The Last Dance. I must absorb its nutrients.
Because right now we live in a world without sport and The Last Dance is all I have.
Taking it for granted
When I eventually get round to pinching myself and wake myself up from the living nightmare that is the coronavirus, I will never take sport for granted again.
It seems trivial, but I can’t stop thinking about the moments we’ve been robbed of.
No Liverpool winning the English Premier League for the first time in 30 years. No Andy Murray making his triumphant return to Wimbledon. No rock climbing at the Olympics for the first time. No Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Tony Ferguson.
Given the tragedy of Kobe Bryant’s death, I was even invested in basketball this year and began following the LA Lakers, hoping Lebron James and his team could bring the NBA title back to a city in mourning.
Point being, for the past two months I’ve been absolutely starved of sports and the real-life stories they provide.
No TV show can replicate that, not even reality shows. Television can surprise you, defy expectations, but doesn’t feel unpredictable like sport. Sport lives and breathes in the present moment. Every single one of its participants moves with a powerful agency and that creates a palpable tension. A tension that glues eyeballs to screens the world over. A tension that’s very much missing from my life right now.
The Last Dance may not be actual sport, but it’s a powerful reminder of its power. The traces of what makes sport magical are present in its DNA. The stories, the turning points, the individual conflicts both on and off the court. The intrigue. It doesn’t matter that it’s the Bulls. It doesn’t matter that it’s Jordan. The Last Dance could be about anything. The Last Dance could be about Manchester United winning the Champions League in the last minute of play in 1999. Serena’s return slam victory after giving birth. Conor McGregor beating Jose Aldo in 13 seconds at UFC 194.
What matters is this: The Last Dance feels like an event, a live event almost. An event that elevates sport in a moment when it’s almost completely absent from our lives. It does so by allowing us to relive one of its most compelling stories.
And right now, that’s about as close as we’re all going to get to the real thing.
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