Although it was released over a year ago, ESPN’s The Last Dance is still finding its way into discussions among sports fans. The docuseries received acclaim from both critics and the general public for the way in which it analyzed the final championship run of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. It was a lengthy process, but director Jason Hehir and his team ultimately managed to pull it off, even after the series’ release date was pushed up. Like many people, Hehir himself is a fan of sports and of Jordan so, as you’d expect, meeting the hall of famer for the first time to discuss the doc was a major (and daunting) experience that was enough to give one chills.
Jason Hehir is no stranger to sports documentaries, having helmed multiple 30 for 30 docs for ESPN and HBO’s Andre the Giant. However, the lore surrounding Michael Jordan hits just a bit more surreal. In a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Tribune, Hehir recalled a 2017 day, during which he got a last-minute invitation to Manhattan to pitch Jordan (who was skeptical) on the idea of the documentary that would eventually become The Last Dance. The filmmaker admitted that his nerves were racing ahead of the meeting but, when he arrived, he felt something else:
Honestly, it was like when you were a kid playing video games and you had to beat all the henchmen before you get to the big boss. Coming off that elevator and walking into that room, I’m thinking to myself: ‘OK, we’re in the boss’s lair here. This is the last person I have to defeat to win this game.’
It certainly sounds like it was a milestone for Jason Hehir, both as a documentarian and as a general fan. Hehir went on to explain what transpired in that meeting and, as he puts it, it was a tit for tat that would rival any great basketball game. While Michael Jordan wanted details on Hehir’s approach to the doc, Hehir equally probed the sports icon to make it clear that the project wouldn’t merely be a “puff piece” on his career. During this time, Hehir also learned something about the man, which he would probably encounter later while working on the doc:
Michael has an ability to snap from normal dude into statue at the drop of a hat. And he knows that. He knows the power he has over people with the ability to do that.
But what sounds like the biggest point of the meeting was when Jason Hehir challenged the former athlete on his highly debated hall of fame speech. And it was apparently in that moment that Hehir felt he been drawn into an experience that felt incredibly surreal:
It was almost cinematic. He stuck that finger across the table, and to me it looked like it was two feet long. All of a sudden, I was like: ‘Holy (expletive)! That’s Michael Jordan.’ That was the first time that occurred to me.
If you do this right. I’ll never have to do anything like this again.
And after the glowing reception received by The Last Dance, it’s very likely that Michael Jordan will never have to do such a project again. Of course, things haven’t been perfect. The reviews were mostly positive, but the show did prove to be somewhat polarizing in some respects, especially among former players. Even Jordan’s former teammate Scottie Pippen took issue with the docuseries.
The quality of the doc aside, Jason Hehir certainly experienced a moment that many sports fans would love to have, and it’s a story that he’ll be able to tell for years to come. To check out the filmmaker’s work, you can stream The Last Dance on Netflix.