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Smash hit Michael Jordan documentary fills TV void for NBA fans

/ 01:14 PM April 28, 2020
michael jordan chicago bulls the last dance

Michael Jordan (L) and Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson (R) Most Valuable Player trophy (L) and the Larry O’Brian trophy (R) 14 June after winning game six of the NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, UT. The Bulls won the game 87-86 to take their sixth NBA championship. AFP PHOTO Jeff HAYNES (Photo by JEFF HAYNES / AFP)

A new Michael Jordan television documentary has become a smash hit for NBA fans whose hope of watching the playoffs these days was scuttled by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Last Dance” details the career of the NBA legend who led the Chicago Bulls to six titles in the 1990s, with editions three and four of the 10-part saga telecast on Sunday.

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It was the top ESPN telecast in the advertiser-prized 18-to-34 demographic since the shut down of sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In all, 6.1 million people watched the opening episodes in the United States, making the documentary Twitter’s top trending topic and ESPN’s most watched original program since the network began producing such shows 16 years ago. An average of 5.9 million viewers watched the latest episodes aired in the US on Sunday.

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“The Last Dance” mixes previously unaired behind-the-scenes footage taken by a special camera crew with the Bulls during their 1997-98 NBA championship run with the retelling of Jordan’s amazing story from his youthful days to Chicago’s amazing dynasty run of six 1990s NBA titles.

The project was set to be broadcast in June when the NBA Finals were scheduled, but when sports programs were wiped out due to the global virus pandemic, ESPN advanced the release date.

The Jordan documentary’s blockbuster success looks likely to spark similar projects.

Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar who died in a January helicopter crash, had a personal camera crew follow him around during his final NBA season, ESPN reported last week, hinting that behind-the-scenes footage could become part of a Bryant documentary.

Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, scored 60 points in his final NBA game in 2016, which capped the worst season in Lakers history at 17-65.

Dwyane Wade, a member of the 2008 US Olympic “Redeem Team” that won Beijing gold after a 2004 bronze at Athens, says he is already executive producing a documentary about that collection of NBA talent.

A lingering hatred

ESPN has aired discussion shows about the documentary after telecasts, with Sunday’s episodes about Jordan’s lingering hatred of the Detroit Pistons leading to Monday interviews with former Detroit star Isiah Thomas, notably about the Pistons snubbing the Bulls for post-game handshakes when Chicago swept the defending champions out of the 1991 playoffs.

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“I hated them,” Jordan said in the fourth chapter of the documentary. “And that hate carries even to this day.”

Thomas was not selected as a member of the 1992 Barcelona US Olympic gold medal “Dream Team” — an NBA all-star lineup that featured Jordan — and Thomas said Monday on ESPN that he hoped the handshake snub wasn’t the reason why he didn’t make the historic lineup.

“If I’m not part of the Dream Team for that lapse of emotion, for not shaking somebody’s hand, then I’m more disappointed today than I was back then when I wasn’t selected,” Thomas said.

“I paid a heavy price. If that moment meant I’m not selected to be on the Dream Team because of that moment, that’s hurtful. That cuts deep.”

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TAGS: Michael Jordan, NBA, NBA fans, TV
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