‘I don’t care,’ says director of ‘The Last Dance’ on GOAT debate
Already a pop culture sensation, “The Last Dance” is expected to engrave itself deep in sporting consciousness as a relevant work of art to basketball’s never-ending—and often toxic—GOAT (greatest of all time) referendum. Just don’t ask director Jason Hehir how much of an impact the documentary will make on the debate, though.
“I don’t care,” the 43-year-old Hehir said. “That’s not why we made the documentary.”
For Hehir, the fact that people have started referencing “The Last Dance” as evidence of Michael Jordan’s claim to the GOAT tag is an inadvertent consequence to the documentary’s true goals—to capture the drama, intrigue, tribulations and eventual triumph of the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-’98 season.
“I realized that people are going to argue this GOAT debate, after they see this, and while they see it,” Hehir told select Filipino journalists in an online roundtable interview early Wednesday morning. “And if they want to use this documentary as an exhibit in their case for Michael or against Michael, that’s up to them.”
“But that did not factor into the making of this documentary. LeBron [James] was not mentioned in this documentary, and I’m a huge LeBron admirer,” Hehir said. James, the current Los Angeles Lakers star who won championships with the Cleveland Cavaliers (one) and the Miami Heat (two), has surfaced as a top-level candidate in the GOAT ballot, along with the late Lakers star Kobe Bryant.Interestingly, in episode five of “The Last Dance,” Bryant said “what you get from me is from [Jordan].”
But even Bryant’s homage to Jordan was not included in the spirit of settling an argument. “[W]e were telling the story of the Bulls dynasty, through the lens of the ’97-’98 season, starring Michael Jordan, and that was our intention,” Hehir said.
But “The Last Dance” may find it hard to escape a legacy linked with the GOAT debate. Just four episodes into the 10-part documentary, which can be streamed at ESPN and Netflix, the film has already been used as a trump card by the pro-Jordan faction.
Familiar debate tropes have resurfaced, especially when former members of the Detroit Pistons outlined the “Jordan Rules,” a codified set of defensive principles designed to keep the Chicago superstar grounded: Jordan played against a tougher, manhandling defense. Jordan battled against icons like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. Jordan had the “killer” gene. Every attribute the documentary highlights to tout Jordan’s uniqueness will also be used as testimony to his greatness.
But Hehir said the documentary doesn’t merely put a hero in a pedestal. Jordan has stood on it already, after all, long before the film aired its first episode.
“Because if all we do is mythologize him … and the only image you have of Michael is in a Bulls’ uniform, winning championships, [you’re] not going to change your view with him. It’s not gonna make you appreciate him any more or less. You won’t have learned anything,” Hehir said.
Indeed, “The Last Dance” does have parts that cast Jordan in a bad light—with more coming in future episodes. In fact, in an interview with NBC Sports, Hehir said there were scenes in episodes seven and eight that he thought wouldn’t make the final cut.
“[T]here’s behavior in there that I’m shocked Michael let us keep in,” he said.
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