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“The Last Dance” is basically a commercial for Michael Jordan. Should that matter?

In an interview on the Dan Patrick Show earlier this week, “The Last Dance” director Jason Hehir said this, about episodes seven and eight:

“And there’s things in there -- there’s language in there that I’m shocked that ESPN let us keep in, and there’s behavior in there that I’m shocked that Michael let us keep in.”

To recap: TLD is a documentary about Michael Jordan. The director of the documentary is “shocked” that the subject allowed him to keep parts of the documentary in the final cut. That’s … not how most documentaries work. In “O.J.: Made in America,” director Ezra Edelman didn’t have to call O.J. and say, “Hey, uh, Juice, you mind if we put the whole Nicole-Ron part in?” This question in ethics has drawn the ire of documentary maven Ken Burns, among others. And it’s easy to see their point-of-view. A few subjects have been noticeably missing from the first six episodes of “The Last Dance,” like:

  • MJ's first wife, Juanita, who took $168 million from Jordan during their 2006 divorce. 

  • Sonny Vaccaro, the godfather of the American sneaker business, who put his job on the line with Nike to convince them to sign Michael Jordan in 1984. (He later had a falling out with Nike, which explains his absence. Yahoo covers it here.) 

  • A true examination of Jordan’s alleged “Republicans buy sneakers, too” comment. He has denied saying it in the past. In TLD, he professed the comment was said “in jest,” but said. 

Does it matter that the thing we’ve all been enjoying for the last three Sundays is more or less a 10-hour advertisement for MJ? It’s a good question, but we, basketball lovers, say no. Why? Because … it’s still interesting. The Players’ Tribune, which had a brief moment a few years ago as an outlet for athletes to write first-person essays, has since faded away. Why? Two reasons: 

  1. It was thinly-veiled sponsored content written in a corny tone by a ghost writer. 

  2. The vast majority of the articles were uninteresting. 

“The Last Dance” is a thinly-veiled commercial for MJ, sure. But it’s about the most famous athlete in American history; features never-seen footage that’s been crystallized for 22 years; has a well-executed if slightly formulaic structure that keeps you engaged for all two hours every Sunday; and has commentary from some of the most influential people in sports. So, we say: Keep the propaganda coming.


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