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How Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance Impacted Magic Johnson’s Apple TV+ Docuseries

Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson
(Image credit: ESPN/NBA TV)

ESPN’s The Last Dance drew some major buzz when it debuted back in April 2020. During the early days of the COVID lockdown, viewers tuned in to be regaled with stories of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the ‘90s. The 10-part series, directed by Jason Hehir, was acclaimed by critics and ultimately won a Primetime Emmy. Amid the hype, a number of former players found themselves drawn to the show, including NBA legend Magic Johnson. The Los Angeles Lakers icon is currently preparing for the release of his docuseries on Apple TV+, and it turns out the upcoming project was impacted by the Bulls-centric production in a few ways.

During the miniseries’ run (which Magic Johnson was interviewed for), the businessman spoke favorably about the program. He had particular praise for an episode that featured the late Kobe Bryant and stated that it would “mean a lot” to Laker fans. Little did we know, however, that around that time, the show’s success had encouraged producers to court Johnson for his own project, as he explained:

The reason we did it is because when Michael did ‘The Last Dance,’ my phone just started ringing. They said, ‘When are you coming out with yours?’ And we got some great investors, great partners, great producers, and they really took it to another level.

They Call Me Magic, which is split into four parts, offers fans a look into the life of the former Lakers point guard, from his formative years  in Lansing, Michigan to his HIV announcement and retirement. The hall of famer’s story has been told before, but this promises to be a more exhaustive production. On the surface, the series does indeed feel very similar to the Chicago Bulls show that premiered nearly two years ago. Magic went on to tell Variety that he and the creative team sought to differentiate it from what’s come before: 

[My family] said, ‘What’s gonna be different from you and Michael Jordan’s [documentaries]?’ And you can see. Michael — who I love, that’s my dear friend — but [‘The Last Dance’] was driven by his great accomplishments on the basketball court. [In ‘They Call Me Magic,’] you’re seeing my family, friends, everybody involved. You’re going to see every episode be a different journey in my life. That’s what makes me proud.

What he’s referring to is one of the most polarizing aspects of The Last Dance. Many have argued that the show puts too much emphasis on Michael Jordan’s individual career path and his achievements. Former Bull Scottie Pippen has shared similar thoughts through his own critiques of the series. Pippen claimed the project “glorified” Jordan and didn’t give him or his teammates their due credit. 

Based on his recent comments, Magic Johnson is looking to move beyond his theatrics on the basketball court while telling his story. In doing so, he’ll bring in a number of big names including Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and former U.S. President Barack Obama. Even Air Jordan makes an appearance. 

This actually isn’t the only Lakers program that’s garnering attention right now, as HBO’s Winning Time, a scripted dramatization of Magic Johnson’s playing days, is airing. Johnson had a short, not-so-sweet message for that project, though and later doubled down on the fact that he won’t be checking it out.

His new docuseries should be an entertaining watch and will hopefully capture the drive, humor and heart that made him one of the most unique personalities the sports world has ever known. It’s too early to tell how it’ll stack up to Michael Jordan’s production, but I think it’s pretty much a given that fans are going to compare the two as the new show airs.

The first episode of They Call Me Magic premieres on April 22 and, if you want to check it out, you’ll need to invest in an Apple TV+ subscription. In the meantime, you can stream The Last Dance on Netflix or ESPN+.

Erik Swann
Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.