Apr 20, 2020 - Sports

"The Last Dance" becomes must-watch quarantine TV

Kendall Baker, author of Sports

Photo: Vincent Lafloret/Getty Images

"The Last Dance" premiered Sunday on ESPN, marking the first time in nearly two months that the sports world sat down to watch something together.

Why it matters: In addition to entertaining millions of self-quarantined fans, the 10-part Chicago Bulls-focused documentary will give ESPN a tentpole event to build its programming around, while providing sportswriters and other content creators (i.e. all of social media) with fresh source material during these sports-less times.

My thoughts after two episodes:

  • Would never happen today: The idea of an owner letting a GM break up a dynasty that just won three straight championships — which ultimately led to the best player in history retiring early — seems impossible and would never happen in today's NBA where superstars wield far more power.
  • 63-point game: If you had to pinpoint the exact moment when the basketball world realized MJ was different, it was probably the 1986 playoff game against the Celtics, when a 23-year-old Jordan scored 63 points on 41 shots (zero threes) the day after playing golf with Danny Ainge. Fun fact: 34 years ago today.
  • So many interviews: From Patrick Ewing breaking down Jordan's game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA title game to Barack Obama and Bill Clinton sit-downs, the sheer numbers of interviews was astounding.
  • God bless Alan and his project: "Sirius" by The Alan Parsons Project has reigned for more than three decades as the undisputed champion of jock jams. Hearing it last night alongside footage of the Bulls taking the floor gave me goosebumps. Always will.

The big picture: "The Last Dance" — and more specifically, Michael Jordan — is the perfect vehicle to remind us what sports can provide, what athletes can symbolize, and what we lose when athletic competition is ripped away from us.

  • For the last two months, sports media has focused heavily on the business of sports — leagues, franchises, networks — because of the unprecedented impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the industry.
  • But what we all truly love about sports are not the institutions that have been built up around them, but rather the ideals and stories that sit at their center: Winning at all costs. Chasing greatness. Writing a legacy. Coming together as a team. Waking up early to put in extra work. Destiny.

The bottom line: As a culture, we love well-crafted narratives, larger-than-life characters and iconic moments. Sports are the most prolific source of all three, and the first two episodes of "The Last Dance" made that abundantly clear.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 6,724.516 — Total deaths: 394,018 — Total recoveries — 2,996,832Map.
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  3. Public health: WHCA president says White House violated social-distancing guidelines to make reporters "a prop" — Jailing practices contribute to spread.
  4. Sports: How coronavirus could reshuffle the sports calendar.
  5. Jobs: Better-than-expected jobs report boosts stock market.
  6. Media: The Athletic lays off 8% of staff, implements company-wide pay cut.

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Heiko Maas. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

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