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The Last Dance (miniseries)

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The Last Dance
Promotional poster
GenreTelevision documentary[1]
Directed byJason Hehir[2]
ComposerThomas Caffey
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes10
  • Thomas McCallum
  • Vincent Guglielmina
  • Michael Winik
  • Peter Winik
  • Chad Beck
  • Devin Concannon
  • Abhay Sofsky
  • Ben Sozanski
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time48–50 minutes
Production companies
Original release
ReleaseApril 19 (2020-04-19) –
May 17, 2020 (2020-05-17)

The Last Dance is a 2020 American sports television documentary miniseries co-produced by ESPN Films and Netflix. Directed by Jason Hehir, the series revolves around the career of Michael Jordan, with particular focus on the 1997–98 season, his final season with the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The series features exclusive footage from a film crew that had an all-access pass to the Bulls, as well as interviews of many NBA personalities, including Jordan's teammates (Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr) and then-Bulls head coach Phil Jackson.

The series aired on ESPN from April 19 to May 17, 2020, in the United States, while its episodes were released on Netflix internationally the day after their US airings; beginning on May 23, two episodes were aired back-to-back on ESPN's corporate partner ABC. ESPN2 aired an alternate version of the series intended for family viewing, which removed most of the profanity heard in the episodes. The series became available on Netflix on July 19, 2020.

It received critical acclaim, with praise for its directing and editing, and also for the timing of the release - during the initial weeks of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic when viewers were desperate for entertainment.[3][4] The Last Dance won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series at the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards.

However, the series received heavy backlash from Jordan’s former Chicago Bulls teammates for its accuracy and narratives. Much of the hostility stemmed from the expectation of a documentary exclusively about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls season, yet unfolded to be primarily a biography of Jordan’s personal life and sports career. It also was criticized for portraying multiple key players of that era in an unfairly negative fashion, while simultaneously giving excessive preferential treatment to Jordan.[5]


The docuseries gives an account of Michael Jordan's career and the Chicago Bulls, using never-before aired footage from the 1997–98 Bulls season, his final season with the team.[6]


This is the list of the 90 persons interviewed for the documentary, ordered by air time.[7]


Episodes of The Last Dance
No.TitleDirected byOriginal air date [8]U.S. viewers
1"Episode I"Jason HehirApril 19, 2020 (2020-04-19)5.73[9]
Flashbacks chronicle Michael Jordan's college and early NBA days. The Bulls make a preseason trip to Paris amid tension with GM Jerry Krause.
2"Episode II"Jason HehirApril 19, 2020 (2020-04-19)5.12[9]
Scottie Pippen rises to become one of the NBA's best players. An injury early in Jordan's career shows distrust with Bulls management.
3"Episode III"Jason HehirApril 26, 2020 (2020-04-26)5.31[10]
Dennis Rodman's attitude and energy help the team win, but bring the drama off the court. The Bulls struggle to overcome the Pistons in the late '80s.
4"Episode IV"Jason HehirApril 26, 2020 (2020-04-26)4.86[10]
Phil Jackson's unique philosophy and demeanor take the Bulls to the next level. The team finally gets past Detroit and earns a shot at an NBA title, which is a dream matchup against Magic Johnson and the Lakers.
5"Episode V"Jason HehirMay 3, 2020 (2020-05-03)4.91[11]
From Air Jordan and Be Like Mike to the 1992 NBA Finals and the Olympic dream team, Jordan becomes a global cultural icon unlike any other.
6"Episode VI"Jason HehirMay 3, 2020 (2020-05-03)4.44[11]
A revealing book and scrutiny of his gambling put a dent in Jordan's reputation, but he remains focused on winning a third straight title in 1993.
7"Episode VII"Jason HehirMay 10, 2020 (2020-05-10)4.41[12]
Crushed by the death of his father, a mentally exhausted Jordan retires in 1993 – to play baseball. The Bulls move on with Pippen in the lead role.
8"Episode VIII"Jason HehirMay 10, 2020 (2020-05-10)4.16[12]
Jordan's return energizes the Bulls, the city and the NBA, but a playoff loss in 1995 fuels him to work harder than ever to get back on top; this is rewarded with their fourth NBA championship over Seattle in 1996, after a record-breaking 72-win season.
9"Episode IX"Jason HehirMay 17, 2020 (2020-05-17)5.02[13]
The Bulls face stiff challenges to their reign in 1997 against Utah and in 1998 versus Indiana. Role player Steve Kerr makes his mark on the dynasty.
10"Episode X"Jason HehirMay 17, 2020 (2020-05-17)4.59[13]
Battered and exhausted, the Bulls conclude their "Last Dance" with a sixth championship. Jordan, Jackson, and others reflect on the end of their dynasty.

Production and release[edit]

The series features both interviews and never-released footage from the 1997–98 Chicago Bulls season. Over 500 hours of all-access footage was filmed and used to create the 10 part documentary series. According to Adam Silver (now NBA Commissioner, but then the head of NBA Entertainment), Jordan allowed the filming with the agreement that the footage would only be used with his direct permission. After many years, and many refusals from Jordan, he agreed in 2016 to a documentary proposal from Mike Tollin.[14]

ESPN and Netflix announced their joint production of the 10-part documentary series in May 2018,[6] with the first official trailer being released on December 25, 2018.[15][16] The release date was pushed back to June 2020 after another trailer was released in December 2019.[17][18] However, because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, ESPN published the final trailer on March 31, 2020 and expedited the premiere to April 19, 2020, releasing the following statement:[8]

As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience. We've heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that. This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.

The series was released weekly from April 19, 2020 to May 17, 2020, with two episodes airing each Sunday.[8] Outside of the United States, the episodes were released on Netflix the day after their ESPN airing.[8] ESPN2 aired a censored version of the documentary alongside the ESPN broadcast.[19] The censored version was also aired on ABC.

According to Hehir, Jordan refused to film interviews in his home to maintain privacy. The interviews were filmed in three houses, one rented by the production and two others which were homes of friends of the production.[20] The fifth episode is dedicated to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. Bryant's interview was featured in the episode's opening.[21]


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 97% based on 62 reviews, with an average rating of 8.85/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "A compelling and comprehensive portrait of one of basketball's great teams, The Last Dance's blend of archival footage and candid interviews confirms there's nobody quite like Mike or the team he led to victory."[22] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the series a score of 91 out of 100 based on 12 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[23]

Writing for Consequence of Sound, Robert Daniels gave The Last Dance a perfect score, calling the series "beautifully composed and edited together" and a "pulsating celebration of greatness."[24] Similarly, Alex Pattle of The Independent praised director Jason Hehir, writing that "Hehir's fear of being formulaic fosters a compelling freshness, and his ability to subtly segue between tones ensures Jordan's auras of magnetism and intensity are highlighted at the appropriate moments",[25] while Brian Lowry of CNN gave the series five stars out of five, saying that "it's a very, very deep dive, but for fans who will eat this stuff up, it hits all the right notes."[26]

Chicago Sun-Times's Richard Roeper gave the series three and a half stars out of four, writing that "while some might question whether even one of the great team sports dynasties of all time merits such a lengthy treatment, if anything each episode left me wanting more. Not only were the Bulls a team for the ages, they also gave us a sports soap opera for the ages."[27] Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter gave the series a positive review, writing that "it's a tremendously engaging, ridiculously fun assemblage of spectacular basketball footage and reasonably introspective interviews with almost everybody you'd hope to hear from on the subject."[28] Writing for The New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote that "Hehir has this trick where any time someone says something debatable or controversial or simply worthy of running by [Michael] Jordan, he hands him an iPad and makes him watch what was said. And every time Hehir does it, Jordan turns the reaction into gold. He's an incredulous Zeus in these moments, lightning bolts falling from his toga as he laughs, zapping lesser gods."[29]

Conversely, filmmaker Ken Burns criticized Michael Jordan's involvement in the production of the series, saying that "if you are there influencing the very fact of it getting made, it means that certain aspects that you don't necessarily want in aren't going to be in [...] and that's not the way you do good journalism." Specifically, Burns pointed to Jordan's production company, Jump 23, being listed as a partner in the series.[30] Hehir would respond to such speculations stating "I ran into zero stop signs in the editorial process. Michael was involved, but in a distant satellite-level while making it. He never came close to the editing room and only received cuts as they were about to go on air. I think Michael is above the fray when it comes to what he wants in and out.”[31]

Criticisms By Ex-Teammates[edit]

While the series drew positive reactions from many current NBA players,[32] many former teammates of Jordan expressed strong criticism for the series’ version of events, placing the blame on Jordan.[33]

Scottie Pippen was reportedly "wounded and disappointed" by his characterization, though he did not make any public remarks during the documentary's airing.[34] Pippen later denied any rift between himself and Jordan over the documentary;[35] however, he told Jordan he was not pleased with the docuseries and considered it to be "about Michael trying to uplift himself”. [36]

Pippen would continue aggressively criticizing Jordan in the following years. In 2021, he wrote a tell-all autobiography, Unguarded, to explain not only his own Hall of Fame career, but also his side of the story during the Bulls' storied dynasty. In the book, he was highly critical of Jordan, designating him as a major scapegoat and target of heavy resentment.[37] In other interviews with different media platforms, Pippen also stated that he thought Kobe Bryant was a better basketball player than Jordan,[38] and then added that Jordan was a “horrible” player, a selfish ball-hog, and had poor shot selection.[39]

Horace Grant expressed a belief that the documentary was edited to favor Jordan, remarking that the series was "entertaining, but we know [...] that about 90% of it [was] BS in terms of the realness of it"; he also denied Jordan's accusation that Grant was the source for The Jordan Rules and agreed that Pippen was portrayed unfairly.[40]

Grant also explained on Bill Cartwright's podcast that he initially planned to decline the interview offer, as he was not a member of The Last Dance team. However, after much persistence by the production crew, Grant finally "reluctantly" conceded to interview because he wanted to reminisce about his glory days as an NBA star, from his undeniable contributions building the Bulls into a perennial championship contender, to the continued success he had with other teams later in his career. He then said he took an outspoken stance about his disdain for the documentary because he wanted to defend his character and did not agree with the veracity of Jordan's version of events.[41] Grant then doubled down on Jordan by ranting his frustrations about Jordan and the docu-series in a lengthy phone call with Shannon Sharpe. [42]

Bill Cartwright, the starting center on the Bulls’ first three-peat team, and an assistant coach on The Last Dance team, was reportedly unimpressed with the series, citing it as pure entertainment[43] and refused to let the series distort his own personal version of events.[44] Cartwright also explained in another interview that Jordan had been framing a bogus image to the public, and called his play-acting “silly.”[45]

Craig Hodges, a member of the first two championship seasons with the Bulls, said he felt disappointed about not getting an opportunity to interview for the documentary, and further criticized Jordan for commenting about the team's use of cocaine during the 1980s, which was also another subject that was not related to The Last Dance season. On the cocaine topic, Hodges remarked, "I was thinking about the brothers who [were on the team] with you who have to explain [what happened] to their families”.[46][47]

Some expressed disappointment over the omission of starting center Luc Longley in the series, including Longley himself. In 2021, an episode of Australian Story, titled The Last Dance ‘Missing Chapter’, was released with Longley's response, including interviews with ex-teammates such as Pippen and Jordan. The documentary developed into a major success in its own right.[48]

Following the successful reception of Longley’s documentary, the Bulls organization released an additional feature documentary of a key backbone for The Last Dance team, versatile sixth man Toni Kukoc. The documentary was titled, “The Waiter,” paying tribute to Kukoc’s nickname acquired in his native country of Croatia, and was also highly acclaimed by viewers.[49]

Others also expressed disappointment in the lack of coverage of another starter on that famous Last Dance team, point guard Ron Harper.[50] Harper was only included for a few seconds talking about his time playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989 when he expressed disagreement with his coach for not assigning him to defend Jordan during The Shot,[51] but never was shown discussing his role as an invaluable cornerstone of the second three-peat. Harper had started all 82 games during The Last Dance season.[52]

There was also criticism on the overemphasis of Steve Kerr—a minor player on the Bulls last championship team—which was linked to his recent success as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, with it being compared to if ESPN did a documentary on the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers and placed Tony Dungy (who like Kerr had a successful head coaching career but a forgettable playing career) in the same company as Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert. Kerr himself admitted that they emphasized him more than what was needed, and also did not condone the ignorance of Longley and Harper in the series.[53][54]

Some experts even came to the defense of Jerry Krause, criticizing Jordan for intentionally delaying the start of the production until Krause passed away in 2017 in order to prevent him from being able to explain his own version of events. Sports Illustrated, who previously blasted Jordan for pursuing a sabbatical in professional baseball during his NBA prime,[55] continued to criticize Jordan in another objective analysis by questioning his handpicked narratives during the docu-series, calling him “cruel”, and said Krause deserved better treatment in the series.[56]

US ratings[edit]

For the 2019–20 television season, the show tied for fifth among adults 18–49 in the Nielsen ratings with This Is Us, averaging a 2.9 rating and 15 share. It also placed 55th in total viewership, averaging 6.71 million viewers. Variety dubbed the show's performance a "consolation prize" for ESPN given the network's struggle to find live sports.[57] The series also became ESPN's most-watched documentary.[58]

The Last Dance : U.S. viewers per episode (millions)

Viewership and ratings per episode of The Last Dance
No. Title Air date Timeslot (ET) Rating
DVR viewers
Total viewers
1 "Episode I" April 19, 2020 Sunday 9:00 p.m. 2.6 5.73 0.6 1.51 3.2 7.25 [9]
2 "Episode II" April 19, 2020 Sunday 10:00 p.m. 2.3 5.17 0.7 1.62 3.0 6.73 [9]
3 "Episode III" April 26, 2020 Sunday 9:00 p.m. 2.3 5.31 0.8 1.68 3.1 6.99 [10]
4 "Episode IV" April 26, 2020 Sunday 10:00 p.m. 2.1 4.86 0.9 2.04 3.1 6.90 [10]
5 "Episode V" May 3, 2020 Sunday 9:00 p.m. 2.1 4.91 0.8 1.78 2.8 6.68 [11]
6 "Episode VI" May 3, 2020 Sunday 10:00 p.m. 1.9 4.44 0.9 2.00 2.7 6.43 [11]
7 "Episode VII" May 10, 2020 Sunday 9:00 p.m. 1.9 4.41 0.9 1.88 2.8 6.29 [12]
8 "Episode VIII" May 10, 2020 Sunday 10:00 p.m. 1.8 4.16 1.0 2.23 2.8 6.39 [12]
9 "Episode IX" May 17, 2020 Sunday 9:00 p.m. 2.1 5.02 0.8 1.75 2.8 6.77 [13]
10 "Episode X" May 17, 2020 Sunday 10:00 p.m. 1.9 4.59 0.9 1.98 2.7 6.57 [13]


Accolades for The Last Dance
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
AAFCA Awards August 22, 2020 Best Documentary The Last Dance Won[a] [59]
American Cinema Editors Awards April 17, 2021 Best Edited Documentary (Non-Theatrical) Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Abhay Sofsky and Ben Sozanski (for "Episode 1") Won [60]
Cinema Eye Honors March 9, 2021 Outstanding Broadcast Series The Last Dance Nominated [61][62]
Outstanding Editing in a Broadcast Film or Series Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Abhay Sofsky and Ben Sozanski Nominated
Creative Arts Emmy Awards September 14, 2020 Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series Jason Hehir, Michael Tollin, Estee Portnoy, Curtis Polk, Connor Schell, Gregg Winik and Andrew Thompson Won [63]
Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program Jason Hehir (for "Episode 7") Nominated
Outstanding Picture Editing for a Nonfiction Program Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Abhay Sofsky and Ben Sozanski (for "Episode 1") Nominated
Golden Reel Awards April 16, 2021 Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Non-Theatrical Documentary Keith Hodne (for "Episode 1") Nominated [64]
NAACP Image Awards March 22–27, 2021 Outstanding Documentary – Television The Last Dance Won [65]
Producers Guild of America Awards March 24, 2021 Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television The Last Dance Won [66]
TCA Awards September 14, 2020 Outstanding Achievement in News and Information The Last Dance Won [67]

See also[edit]



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External links[edit]