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Last night, ESPN’s 10 part documentary on Michael Jordan, The Last Dance, debuted. If the reaction on my Twitter timeline is any indication, people loved it. They couldn’t get enough of all the Jordan stories. They couldn’t get enough of the entire team’s feud with Jerry Krause, and hilariously, they couldn’t get enough of ex-President Barack Obama being referred to as “Former Chicago Resident.” Well, it turns out there’s a reason that last one happened.
Director Jason Hehir really wanted everyone who appeared in the documentary to have an authentic connection to the subject matter. He didn’t just want to get famous people to talk about Michael Jordan; so, when MJ mentioned his ability to get former President Obama, the filmmakers wanted to contextualize him as someone with knowledge of the situation beyond just his personal accomplishments. Here’s a portion of a quote Hehir gave Richard Deitsch from The Athletic…
Barack Obama is not the kind of guy I can find his number and text him. Michael had a connection. But I was pretty adamant that we don’t have people in here who don’t have a connection to the story… I’m a filmmaker first and I just want to tell the story of this team as if they were not super famous. Who were the human beings who make up this team and how did they become famous and how did they handle that fame?
At first glance, it seems like a great idea to include everyone possible in a documentary, but at some point, you have to make strategic cuts to advance the story and to allow people more time to talk who affected the story in more direct ways. I loved seeing President Obama randomly show up. I have no issue with him being a small piece of what we’re seeing, as a representative of fans in Chicago, but ultimately, I want to hear more from people who had, at the time, a more direct connection to the team.
That same logic also explains why we got Bill Clinton during the Scottie Pippen section of the documentary. Here is Hehir again explaining his reasoning for the inclusion of Bill Clinton…
My question was, okay, what is Bill Clinton going to say that is different than any other fan would say about watching Michael play? Why should he be considered an authority on basketball just because he’s Bill Clinton? Now if Bill Clinton says I was governor of Arkansas when Scottie Pippen was in high school and I saw Scottie play, that’s organic to the story and much more interesting.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch The Last Dance, I can’t recommend it enough. ESPN ran an uncensored swear-heavy version on ESPN and a censored version with bleeps on ESPN2. All two hours were compelling, and I’m honestly disappointed we’re only going to get 10 total parts. It feels like this story could be 30 hours long given how fascinating all the personalities are, and given none of us have anything to do right now, I’m sure people would watch. If my Twitter timeline is any indication, many did. So, hop on the bandwagon and join us all next Sunday at 9 PM EST. You might even get more from “Former Chicago Resident” Barack Obama.