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What I’ve taken from it is the lack of warmth or affection towards him from almost everybody - nobody questions the talent or that he got every ounce out of all of them, its just that he was exhausting to be around as there was no off switch to it, it wasn’t just basketball related. They fondly recall the moments in games but rarely speak warmly of the bloke.

 

His need to win and be best was complete and never off, and that extended it seemed to mental dominance over his team mates. He’d have who could piss highest contest in the urinal and be sniping verbally at you the whole time.

 

I get it made him and the team what it was, but much like Roy Keane doesn’t mean anybody likes him much.

 

Imagine going thru all that with so many people and none of them like you. It’s quite sad. There is almost something symbolic in Jordan's current interviews being filmed for this in a beautiful huge empty looking mansion by the sea.

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On 09/05/2020 at 00:05, Naysonymous said:

I've been surprised to see just how many of the players smoke cigars though, I get that there is a ton of footage from 25-30 years ago and maybe sports science wasn't as big a deal then as it is now but I'd always thought that the level of athleticism required to make it into the NBA was off the charts.  Now I'm starting to wonder where they compare to elite level footballers. 

Where they compare fitness-wise? Top basketball players' fitness levels are way WAY off the charts. The documentary does make it look like they smoked a lot, but none of them did and of course, they didn't inhale the cigar smoke.

  As for Jordan being a dick, I think you have to understand that no-one in the NBA came close to doing the amount of work on the court that he did, which when you followed the sport at the time was why he was so remarkable. Yes he made spectacular dunks and baskets of all kinds, but perhaps more impressive was how he busted a gut on every single play of every game. He was a great defensive player and excelled in every aspect of the game. As he pointed out himself, he never asked someone to do anything he wasn't doing himself and I think a lot of players recognised over time that they needed that in order to succeed in a crazily talented and competitive league. As the documentary points out, the Bulls were shit when Jordan arrived.

  Anyway, I'm loving the series so much it almost makes me cry. I was living and working in Chicago during that time and was a huge Bulls fan. The years of getting beaten (up) by the Pistons was so painful to live through.  Then Phil Jackson showed up with the triangle offense system, which everyone in the city and Jordan hated, but which was their saviour. 

I was lucky enough to go to one of their playoff games in their first championship-winning year and it was phenomenal. 

 

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Spoilered for length, some great background content on The Athletic about how the Last Dance was put together and came about

 

Spoiler

The moment comes at the end of Episode 7. Here is Michael Jordan, as pathological and manically driven to win as any athlete in the history of sport, being asked about tradeoffs. You hear an interviewer’s voice in the background but the camera remains focused on Jordan.

Through the years, do you think that intensity has come at the expense of being perceived as a nice guy? 

“Look, winning has a price,” says Jordan. “And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates who came after me didn’t endure all the things that I endured. Once you joined the team, you lived at a certain standard that I played the game. And I wasn’t going to take any less. Now if that means I had to go in there and get in your ass a little bit, then I did that. You ask all my teammates. The one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t fucking do. When people see this they are going say, ‘Well he wasn’t really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant.’ Well, that’s you. Because you never won anything. I wanted to win, but I wanted them to win to be a part of that as well. Look, I don’t have to do this. I am only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way.”

Jordan then does something extraordinary, and I’m glad the filmmakers left it in. He asks for a break. He has become so emotional, near tears, that he has to get away for a moment.

This is the quintessential scene in ESPN and Netflix’s highly anticipated 10-part documentary series, “The Last Dance,” which examines Jordan’s final season with the Bulls in 1997-98. It is ambitious and brilliant filmmaking from director Jason Hehir and rightfully lands in the conversation of the best things to air on ESPN. (The company’s Oscar-winning documentary on O.J. Simpson – “O.J.: Made In America” – still ranks at the top of that list but that is no slight to the phenomenal Jordan project.)

“The Last Dance” will air on ESPN on Sunday nights over five weeks from April 19 through May 17. Two episodes will debut each week over those five weeks for a total of 10 original episodes. The series will also be available outside of the U.S. on Netflix, one of the main producers of the docu-series in addition to ESPN, NBA Entertainment, Mandalay Sports Media and Jordan’s Jump 23 company.

In a long interview with The Athletic last week, Hehir went deep into the process of making the film. Over the course of two years, he interviewed 106 people including Jordan, who gave the filmmakers three separate interviews – one in June 2018, one in May 2019 and a final interview in December 2019. And those interviews are extraordinary.

“The moment when he asked for a break came early in the first interview,” Hehir recalled. “To get something that raw, candid, honest and genuine out of him that early in the interview process was kind of a turning point for all of us in the crew. We all thought: ‘Wow this could be something a little bit different than just basketball. It looks like he came to participate and understands what we’re trying to do here.’ It was one of those answers where you just let the person go, almost like a therapy session. He did stop himself and say ‘break.’ And we did. I got up and left the room for a little bit. We’d been going for about 45 minutes and I knew we had at least two more hours to go. What you don’t want to do is gas out your interview subject less than an hour into it.

“But it was so telling to me that this is what’s at this guy’s core. No matter what we discussed, it funnels back to that deep-seated drive to be the best at all costs. We were talking about his intensity as a teammate, his intensity as a competitor. We had just finished talking about the roots of his competitiveness, competing against his brother Larry for his Dad’s attention. One of the things that I was interested in exploring when we first started studying his entire story was this notion from his perspective. By all my experiences, he was a nice guy. He was very respectful to me. He was very respectful to the crew. He couldn’t have been more generous with his time and candor. I was really interested in whether or not it hurt him that the perception of him was this stone-cold killer and not as Mr. Nice Guy. The question produced probably a nine-minute answer. Was it worth to you to have that reputation for intensity and ferocity? Is it worth the tradeoff of not being considered nice guy quote unquote?”

There are all sorts of brilliant moments like that throughout “The Last Dance.” I have viewed the first eight episodes so I can speak to only them, but I can’t imagine the final two episodes won’t equal the quality of the first eight.

Hehir said figuring out a workable chronology for a 10-part film was the most challenging aspect of the project. His concern was not to confuse the audience given the necessity of flashing back and forth in time. The one thing the filmmakers knew was that the chronological spine of the documentary would be the 1997-98 season, the last of Jordan’s six NBA championships. The film is episodically broken up by the months of that championship season and within each of those episodes, the film flashes back in time on a particular theme or subject.

“The 10 episodes are laid out by October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May, May, and June,” Hehir said. “There are two episodes that are dedicated to May (1998) because there’s a lot of playoff material to get to in Episodes 8 and 9. The idea of converging timelines we discussed very early in the process as being the easiest way for the viewer to process it. There are time warp graphics to help cue the viewer that the story is now going back in time. That’s how the film goes from the 1998 season to a back story.”

The backstory on how the Jordan documentary came to be is interesting on its own. Jordan and his Bulls teammates agreed to let NBA Entertainment go behind the scenes with them for the entire 1997-98 season, which coach Phil Jackson dubbed as “The Last Dance” knowing it was the end of his time with Chicago and likely many players too. That footage had barely been seen by the public prior to this documentary and had always been considered a gold mine for documentary filmmakers (credit longtime NBA Entertainment executive Andy Thompson for coming up with the idea to embed with the Bulls that year).

Four years ago, in July 2016, Hehir had dinner with Mike Tollin, a well-respected producer and director with a ton of sports films on his résumé after Tollin reached out to Hehir’s agent saying he wanted to meet him. Earlier that year, Tollin had pitched the idea to Jordan’s representatives about doing a documentary around the 1997-98 footage and Jordan’s signed off on doing the project.

“I knew Jason’s name from 30 for 30 and I loved the documentary he directed on The Fab Five,” Tollin said of Hehir’s 2011 ESPN film on Michigan’s famed college basketball team from the 1990s. “I thought that was a great story that had a challenge given they only had four of the five (Chris Webber did not participate) subjects, and somehow the filmmaker had overcome that and told the story beautifully. So I wanted to meet him.”

At that dinner, Tollin talked about doing an eight-part doc on the Bulls’ 1997-98 footage and asked Hehir what he thought such a project might look like on film. Over the next week, Hehir immersed himself in all things Jordan and presented Tollin with a 14-page outline. That impressed Tollin and led Hehir to a meeting with Estee Portnoy, Jordan’s longtime business manager, and the keeper of access to Jordan, Curtis Polk, who manages the financial and business affairs of Jordan and is an executive with Hornets, and Gregg Winik, who ran the programming and production divisions at the NBA for 16 years before forming his own production company (Winik Media) in 2006. (Tollin had made an outline of an eight-part doc on Jordan and presented it to Portnoy and Jordan before Hehir’s involvement.)

The group flushed out more ideas about how a potential doc might work but the momentum slowed shortly afterward. So Hehir moved on to direct and produce (via his JMH Films)“Andre The Giant” that ran on HBO and was a widely acclaimed documentary. Hehir’s availability in 2018 then matched up with the timing of Jordan production partners ready to proceed with the project. Tollin called Hehir on behalf of his production company, Mandalay Sports Media, Jordan’s Jump 23 company and NBA Entertainment and asked if he’d be willing to direct the film. Hehir could not say yes fast enough.

“At the outset, we had developed a short list of directors for this project with Mike Tollin and NBA Entertainment executives,” Polk said. “We reviewed some of their prior work and then spoke with some by phone. We then narrowed the list down and had a few in-person meetings. During Jason’s meeting, we felt he really understood our vision and had a passion for the project. It was also important to our group that this project was viewed as more than a sport’s documentary and we all felt Jason got that message. During the early stages of the process, we worked very closely with Jason and his team to ensure that our collective vision was being created. The early work on the first four episodes definitely had a lot of back and forth. Since then the process has gone a lot smoother and the pace has picked up as we developed a better working relationship.”

Hehir said he first met with Jordan in New York City on September 27, 2017. He was getting ready to go to the gym around 6 p.m. when Portnoy called asking if Hehir could join Jordan and her at a Manhattan hotel. He quickly changed his clothes and headed uptown.

“The elevator doors open and Michael is sitting in the lounge with his wife (Yvette Prieto) and Estee,” Hehir said. “I had known Estee for a while at this point. She introduced us and we sat down and kind of got to know each other a little bit. It was comfortable enough. The meeting took a little less than an hour. I said to him, ‘why do you want to do this?’ And he said, ‘I don’t.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And he said, ‘When people see this footage I’m not sure they’re going to be able to understand why I was so intense, why I did the things I did, why I acted the way I acted, and why I said the things I said.’ He said there was a guy named Scotty Burrell who he rode for the entire season and, ‘When you see the footage of it, you’re going to think that I’m a horrible guy. But you have to realize that the reason why I was treating him like that is because I needed him to be tough in the playoffs and we’re facing the Indiana’s and Miami’s and New York’s in the Eastern Conference. He needed to be tough and I needed to know that I could count on him. And those are the kind of things where people see me acting the way I acted in practice, they’re not going to understand it.’ I said to him, ‘That’s great because this is an opportunity. We have 10 hours here to peel back the onion and have you articulate all the things you just articulated to me.’

“The conversation just kind of took off from there. He wanted to know where I was from, just some basic information about me. The next thing I know we’re talking about his ‘Republicans buy sneakers too’ comment and the feelings he had about that. We talked about his feelings on some of the rivalries. It ran the gamut of sports, basketball and non-basketball. I told my brothers it was like meeting Santa Claus for the first time. Like you’ve heard about this person, you know what he looks like, he’s iconic. But the fact that he’s an actual living, breathing human being is a bizarre thing to experience.”

Hehir said that he believed Jordan and his team appreciated that he had studied Jordan’s life for years and had the best of intentions of telling an honest story that might be difficult to tell at times.

“From the first moment that I spoke with Michael about this, it was clear that he was going to be a willing participant,” Hehir said. “I said to him there’s going to be some questions that may be uncomfortable for you but I have to ask them in order for us to tell the most honest story possible. He said from Day 1 that I could ask him whatever I wanted to ask. I think they trusted me enough to tell an honest, responsible story that was not going to be a puff piece but also wasn’t going to be a deliberate exposé. I said to them I wanted to tell a true story about Michael’s time as a Bull and what made him what he is, what made him who he is, and what made that team become what they became.”

The interviews with Jordan were conducted near Jordan’s Florida home. The crew had no idea how much time Jordan would give them during that first shoot. Hehir said nothing would have surprised him. Without Jordan’s involvement, the film would be nowhere near as compelling.

Hehir said his thinking was to head into the first interview with Jordan to get enough footage for the first four episodes. Then the next interview with Jordan would focus on the next three episodes followed by one last interview that focused on the final three chapters.

“He was surprisingly forthcoming,” Hehir said. “Charismatic, engaging, responsive, respectful. The challenge with him is that he’s been asked every single question that you could possibly imagine. He’s answered these questions and they’re probably on tape somewhere. So I am sure in the back of his mind he’s thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I answering these same exact questions again about where I’m from and all that?’ So the challenge as an interviewer for me was how do you keep this guy stimulated or actively engaged for the duration of the interview. That’s where showing him iPad clips of other interviews came in. With Michael, anything that is a game is going to engage him. So early in the interviews, I would say one word, as sort of a call-and-response and he would give an answer as to what he thought I was talking about. Like I would say ‘hornet’s nest’ and he would laugh and then tell the story about how he and his brother shot a hornet’s nest with a B.B. gun and they got in trouble and they had stings all over their hands.

“It was my way of demonstrating to him that I had done all the research possible about every phase of his life. He was adamant that he get the last word about these stories. Not because he wanted to skew them I think in his favor because very rarely, if at all, did he do that. But he wanted to make sure he knew who we were talking to about all these things. So instead of saying to him, ‘Isiah Thomas said that everybody walked off the court (at the end of series) in the 80s and it wasn’t a big deal,’ I showed him the clip of Isiah saying those exact words. So we can get to see like his visceral response to Isiah saying that.”

(Jordan pretty much said Isiah was full of shit but I’ll let you enjoy that scene in Episode 4 yourself.)

Hehir said his initial list of interview subjects was more than 200 people including suggestions from the NBA and Jordan’s camp. Think about how many people who have intersected in Jordan’s life as well as Scottie Pippen, Jackson, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr, who also get extended treatment in the film. The list of interview subjects ultimately whittled down to 106. No one turned Hehir down for the film, including Barack Obama.

“That is a Michael thing,” Hehir said. “Barack Obama is not the kind of guy that I can find his number and text him. Michael had a connection. But I was pretty adamant that we don’t have people in here who don’t have an organic connection to the story. I think the temptation is because Michael was super famous, let’s get as many super famous people in here as possible. There were conflicting philosophies amongst all the (production) partners of what makes a good documentary and what makes a documentary sizzle. I’m a filmmaker first and I just want to tell the story of this team as if they were not super famous. Who were the human beings who make up this team and how did they become famous and how did they handle that fame?

“So that was an interesting part of this whole thing. The good thing is that we all have the common goal – that it should be fantastic and everyone should enjoy watching it. I think the temptation would be to say, well, Bill Clinton was president in the 1990s. He has to talk about Michael because he was the President when Michael was playing and he saw Michael play live. My question was, okay, what is Bill Clinton going to say that is different than any other fan would say about watching Michael play? Why should he be considered an authority on basketball just because he’s Bill Clinton? Now if Bill Clinton says I was governor of Arkansas when Scottie Pippen was in high school and I saw Scotty play, that’s organic to the story and much more interesting.”

To this point, Clinton appears in the film talking about seeing Pippen in Arkansas while Obama, with his Chicago ties, discusses Jordan.

Hehir said at one point his crew had more than 10,000 hours of footage. In his office, he kept a huge corkboard on the wall that had ten color-coded columns. All of the green note cards represented the 1997-98 season and the white note cards were flashback material. When the filmmakers looked at the board in full, the goal was to see a checkerboard so the film would travel back and forth in time. The ESPN format required 50-minute episodes so no doubt there will be some who wish certain stories were fleshed out deeper. Hehir said he totally understands that. One example of something Hehir would have loved to explore but didn’t was Jordan emerging as one of the best high school players in the country at a Five-Star basketball camp in 1980, the summer before his high school senior year. That was only two years after being cut from the varsity squad prior to his sophomore year.

Hehir cited Jake Rogal, one of the producers, as the heart and soul of the project. Rogal was involved in the project from the inception, and Hehir ran every story point, creative idea, and decision by him. There were six editors working on the docu-series, led by lead editor Chad Beck. Hehir said Beck edited several episodes himself and was instrumental in how the final product looks. The project’s archival editor, Nina Kristic, was responsible for footage in the film that was rare or obscure. She played the same role for ESPN’s O.J. doc. ESPN Vice President Connor Schell told Hehir that hiring Kristic would be the best decision he made for the project.

“There are a lot of (production) parties here and often times a lot of parties does not lead to creative excellence because you get a lot of different agendas in play,” Schell said. “Honestly, a lot of opinions isn’t always a good thing. Every step of the way there was not total harmony but everyone’s interests were aligned in making sure that this was all in effort to support Jason and create the best possible product because that was good for all of us. There were creative challenges to stay on the journey and figure out how all these different sort of stories could fit together. How do you make the timeline work when you’re going backward and forward in time? That took a while for Jason to solve. When it started to fall into place, it happened pretty quickly.”

There are so many great scenes in the documentary and I’ll do a piece later this week that serves as a review. For example, in Episode 1, Jordan’s mother, Delores Jordan, reads aloud a letter Michael (then Mike Jordan) sent his mom while in North Carolina about being flat broke and needing stamps.

“Watching his Mom read a letter home from him, you can see the emotion on his face just when he sees his mom and hears her voice saying he only has $20 left to his name,” Hehir said. “I said from the outset that my goal was to humanize him as much as possible because we all have our perceptions about what kind of a person he is. But I really wanted to get at the truth of who he was inside, where he came from, and what made him that kind of a person.

Hehir said that he did not get into Jordan’s first marriage because for him there was so much to get to that was basketball-related and non-Michael related such as the backstories of Pippen, Rodman, Phil Jackson and Kerr. Jordan’s first marriage is one of the few places where an exploration would have produced a more complete picture of the subject.

“I wasn’t interested in the opinion of any wife or kids in this,” Hehir said. “We had the storytellers we wanted and I felt like we had the story covered from every angle.”

Hehir said Jordan has already seen the episodes that are completed and was an active note-giver to the filmmakers during the process. “And they were great notes because they weren’t overly critical – and he could add things. He could say, No, this is what I was thinking and actually go back to this game because this is a better example of that. He couldn’t have been a better partner in that respect.

Here is one example of that. Episode 8 focuses on Jordan’s return to the Bulls in March 1995. His first game back was against Indiana and then the idea was to jump from that game on March 19 to Jordan putting up 55 (the double nickel game) against the Knicks on March 28. But Jordan told Hehir after watching a rough cut of the film that between those games, he hit a game-winner at Atlanta in his fourth game back that Jordan believed was key to him feeling like his old self. So that highlight was added to the doc.

“It’s one thing for someone from the NBA to give me that note or a researcher,” Hehir said. “It would honestly be a great note to get from anybody. But when you get it from someone who’s giving it to you first person, that’s a different level. Those are the kind of notes that he could give. If anything he wanted to discuss more in-depth things like ‘Republicans buy sneakers, too.’ and the response that. And all the allegations (about his gambling being part of his father’s death). If you watch a lot of those stories, he’s got a different shirt on because he wanted to discuss it over the course of a couple of interviews. He did not want to shy away from it.”

This is a big project for ESPN given the tonnage and anticipation for the project. It’s also a major project for Netflix. Canada and the rest of the world will have “The Last Dance” available on Netflix only a few hours after it airs on ESPN.

“I’m really glad that at no point did any of us, meaning Netflix, the NBA, or any of the production partners, try to rush this,” Schell said. “I think everybody understood the ultimate defining quality of success here is if it is really good. And we feel really good about the outcome.”

They should all feel good. It is going to be a critical hit. The only question will be how many people will watch the documentary on all of the platforms and given where the world is at the moment, a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan sounds pretty great right now. Hehir said his next month will include inserting master footage over temp placeholders, graphics integration, sound design, audio mixing, color correction, subtitling, and closed-captioning before the television debut on ESPN.

“I think my goal would be for people who are of a certain age, say 30 and older, to come away thinking they thought they knew the story, but there’s way more there than I realized,” Hehir said. “I think for younger people it would be I thought I knew the story of this team but I didn’t realize the true impact they had back then and how difficult it was to do what they did. Nothing that seems easy at that level is easy. I hope this film gives people a peek behind the curtain at just how much dedication it takes, just how much passion you have to have, and just how exhausting it is for everyone involved. Nothing comes easy when you are excellent at that level and I hope we showed that in an entertaining way.”

The Ink Report

1. Hehir passed along a list of all the subjects he interviewed for film. Below is the order in which the filmmakers shot the interviews. Not everyone from the list made the final cut. Shooting began in late June 2018 and finished in early March 2020:

Brian McIntyre, Charley Rosen, David Stern, Bill Wennington, Jerry Reinsdorf, Rick Telander, Doug Collins, George Koehler [Jordan’s driver], Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, B.J. Armstrong, John Salley, Dr. Todd Boyd, James Worthy, Phil Jackson, Charles Oakley, Rod Thorn Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, Chip Schaefer, Mark Vancil, Danny Ainge, George Mumford, David Falk, Brendan Malone, Steve Kerr, Billy Packer, Larry Jordan, Ronnie Jordan, Tony Parker, Roy Williams, Fred Whitfield, Fred Lynch, Ron Cooley, Dick Neher, David Bridgers, Steve East, Joe Kleine, Ronnie Martin, Donald Wayne, Billy Pippen, Barack Obama, Sam Smith, Tim Hallam, Jim Stack, Will Perdue, Toni Kukoc, Gary Payton, Glen Rice, Sidney Moncrief, Dikembe Mutombo, Vlade Divac, Xavier McDaniel, Dominique Wilkins, Mandy Cohen, Joe Pytka, George Raveling, Magic Johnson, Nas, Carmen Electra, Sonny Vaccaro, Scott Burrell. Adam Silver, Jud Buechler, Allen Iverson, Roy Johnson, Rod Higgins, Kevin Loughery, Isiah Thomas, Jeffrey Jordan, Marcus Jordan, John Michael, Tisher Lett, Melissa Isaacson, J.A. Adande, Tim Grover, John Ligmanowsk (Bulls equipment manager), Joe O’Neil, Deloris Jordan, Dr. John Hefferon, Ahmad Rashad, Buzz Peterson, Bill Clinton, Patrick Ewing, Mike Wilbon, Mike Barnett, Terry Francona, Willow Bay, Kobe Bryant, Bill Cartwright, Ann Kerr, Pat Riley, Horace Grant, Justin Timberlake, Andrea Kremer, Larry Bird, David Aldridge, Charles Barkley, Ron Harper, Howard White, Bob Costas, Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose, Hannah Storm, Jasmine Jordan, and John Stockton.

 

Spoiler

As they made their way from their Boynton Beach hotel on the morning of June 26, 2018, for the first of three interviews with Michael Jordan, a number of emotions came over Jason Hehir and Jake Rogal, the director and lead producer for “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary series which examines Jordan’s final season with the Bulls in 1997-98. “Anxious, certainly,” Hehir said. “And we felt lucky, too. Jake is one of my best friends and has been by my side creatively, logistically, and in every possible way through this process. He and I would literally say to each other, ‘How lucky are we that we get to tell this story right now?’ Like if you told 10-year-old Jason and Jake that they’d be doing this in 2018, how thrilled they would have been?”

Amid the excitement, there was plenty of strategy to the Jordan interviews. Hehir believed that he and his production crew for “The Last Dance” had to get enough material from the initial interview to complete the first four episodes. The outline for the 10-episode arc determined everything, and because Hehir had decided there would be no narrator (including Jordan) or voiceover element to tell the story, they had to tell the macro facts of the 1997-98 season (and the individual stories of Jordan and other key members of that team such as Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr) through voices other than the main characters.

“We wanted to get people who had been there for all of these events so we would get the basics,” Hehir said. “Then we started going after our main characters. Normally, I like to do a main character right off the bat. The first person we interviewed for (HBO’s) ‘Andre the Giant’ was Vince McMahon. I usually like to see what I can get from that person so we know if a main character is going to determine where we go with the direction of the story.”

But in this case, there were others interviewed before Jordan. During a May 2018 dinner Hehir had with Ezra Edelman, a friend from his HBO days and director of the Oscar-winning ESPN documentary on O.J. Simpson, Edelman gave Hehir advice on how to handle the ambition of such a project.

“He asked me why I wanted to interview Michael first and I said that that’s just what I normally do,” Hehir said. “I told him I get the first big one out of the way and then kind of have all these other interviews rotate around them like a satellite. Ezra said that’s not the way he would do it. By the end of that dinner, I decided that he was right for a story this big. I needed to get certain basics down first before I went to Michael. We interviewed (longtime NBA executive) Brian McIntyre, (author and Phil Jackson confidant) Charley Rosen and David Stern the day before we interviewed Michael to give us the basic bedrock of the story we were trying to tell just for the first couple of episodes. (They also filmed interviews in Chicago with Doug Collins, Jerry Reinsdorf, Rick Telander and Bill Wennington prior to interviewing Jordan.) I could give their interviews to my editors and make it start to plant the seed of what this thing was going to become.”

The initial agreement between Jordan’s team and the filmmakers was two interviews with Jordan and access to some sort of behind-the-scenes lifestyle footage. Hehir worked under the premise that there would only be two interviews. But that would eventually change.

Interview 1: June 26, 2018, South Florida

Jordan had golfed in the morning with longtime friend Ahmad Rashād and showed up early for the afternoon shoot. Hehir took this as a good sign. There were six members of “The Last Dance” camera crew to shoot the interview. Others who attended included Mike Tollin, the executive producer of the doc (his Mandalay Sports Media is one of the production partners, and he hired Hehir), Andy Thompson (a longtime NBA Entertainment executive who came up with the idea to embed with the Bulls during the 1997-98 season), Estee Portnoy (Jordan’s longtime business manager), George Koehler (a longtime Jordan confident and his driver in Chicago), members of a catering crew and a makeup person.

Hehir said his crew had side bets on how many times they would have to break filming, whether they could get Jordan to laugh, how many F-bombs Jordan would drop and other fun topics. The night before the first interview, Hehir said the crew met to make sure that everyone knew exactly what the flow of the interview was going to be, when breaks were scheduled and what the topics were going to be discussed.

“I wanted my cameramen and sound guys to know everywhere I was going,” Hehir said. “Everyone got a copy of the questions. Obviously those questions are just a roadmap and you deviate all over the place based on your subject. Michael took the interview places that I never thought we would go in that first interview. We figured if we can get three-quarters of these questions done, we would be in a good place. But I really had no idea what would happen. I had only met Michael two or three times before that interview, in very limited, controlled environments. In order to have a long interview like that, it has to be relaxed and, to have it be truthful, you have to have a certain rapport with somebody or they have to be relaxed enough to let their guard down. Michael could have said that day, ‘You know what? I want Andy to ask these questions.’ Obviously that would have been disappointing, but I truly did not know what to expect. My paramount concern was getting the best possible material out of him. So if that meant he was more comfortable with Andy than me, I’d be willing to audible. Whatever we could do to maximize our time with him is what I was prepared to do.”

The session started with questions about what Hehir and Koehler had discussed in an earlier interview just to get Jordan comfortable talking on camera and to try to find a conversational rhythm.

Said Hehir: “I didn’t want the first question to be, ‘OK, where are you from,’ or ‘what is it like to grow up in Wilmington (North Carolina)?’ I said to our crew very early on the process that there is no way within the first 50 minutes of this doc we’re going to see a childhood picture of Michael Jordan. Because that to me would be signaling that this is the Michael Jordan story and settle in for 10 hours of the Michael Jordan documentary. We were trying to tell Michael’s story, of course, but it was through the lens of that Bulls dynasty and specifically the ’97-’98 Bulls team. My goal all along was: He’s been asked every question so let’s deviate from the format in which he’s been asked these questions in the past. And that might mean pulling out an iPad or showing him the clip on an iPhone.”

The content of the first interview included everything you saw in the first four episodes of the doc. Topics such as general competitiveness, Jordan’s intensity with teammates, his view on the cost of being perceived as a nice guy, his rookie season, the 63-point playoff game against the Celtics in 1986 and all the Pistons stuff.

The first interview lasted three hours. Hehir said he had six pages of questions for the first shoot and estimated that each page equaled an hour of filming.

He said there was no postmortem of the first interview. The last question was asked and then, when the cameras were off, he and Jordan had a discussion about one of the questions as the crew started breaking down the equipment and headed to the door. Hehir said that he wanted to end the session, as opposed to Jordan. “I knew we were coming back again so I did not want his lasting impression to be ‘OK, that went so long that I had to stop it,’” Hehir said. “I would get all the way through my questions or I would sense from him that he was getting fidgety and antsy and this was enough for today.”

Interview 2: May 6, 2019, South Florida

Most of the same people were on hand for the second interview. Portnoy was not there but Curtis Polk, who manages the financial and business affairs of Jordan and is an executive with Hornets, was there as a member of Jordan’s executive group.

“The first interview went so well,” Hehir said. “We couldn’t believe how well it had gone. I wanted the exact same people here. However we can recreate this environment, let’s do everything we can. It was the same exact crew members and the same makeup woman. She was pregnant and that was how I knew that Michael was in a good mood. We came in and he was very polite to her. He asked about the baby. Someone offered him a cigar. He said, ‘We got a pregnant woman here. Come on. Mind your manners.’ It was very much the Southern polite gentleman Michael who came in there that day. I’ve read all the same books everybody else has read. So I don’t know if we’re going to get angry Michael because he lost to Ahmad on the golf course that day or the Michael who does not want to be interviewed today. I had no idea which Michael we’re going to get. So that was a very good indicator from the get-go that he was in a good mood and he came ready to play.”

The second interview was approached differently from the first one. In the initial interview, Hehir was fine with Jordan going in any direction he wanted. That conversation would pay dividends for some of the later episodes.

“The second interview was way more tactical and surgical because we were told that we only had 90 minutes with him this time and there was a lot that I had to get to,” Hehir said. “I had to fill in some blanks for the first four episodes because at that point we were about to submit the first four episodes of rough cuts. Then I needed to have him speak on the final six episodes over 90 minutes. I felt a lot less overwhelmed. It wasn’t as much of a challenge for me to focus because I knew exactly what we had and what we needed. Before we had nothing. I was just throwing things at the wall. This time I was actually cutting him off sometimes because we were limited. I was told we can’t go over 90 minutes. So I was saying to Michael, ‘I’m sorry, man, but you already told us this.’ He got it. He was kind of following my lead and just answering.

But we also had sensitive things to ask him about. This interview is when we discussed gambling. That’s when we discussed his father’s death. That’s when we discussed the conspiracy theories surrounding his leaving the game. That’s when we discussed the unfounded rumors that he might be responsible for his dad’s death. These are some of the topics that were the most sensitive in the entire documentary and yet I had to rush through a lot of the interview to get there because there was so much just basic material that we needed, connective tissue that were lacking for the early episodes. It was a much different mindset that I had going into this interview.”

On the issue of the murder of James Jordan Sr., Hehir said he thought long and hard about how to approach that subject.

“He knows what’s coming and I know that he knows what’s coming,” Hehir said. “We put a lot of thought into this. You don’t just want to lead off the question saying, ‘OK, so tell me about your dad and tell me what happened?’ It’s one of those things, too, that goes unsaid. You can say to him, take me back to that summer of 1993. When did you first know something was wrong? He knew what I was talking about. He knows where I’m going with this. But it’s delicate because it’s one of those things where you’re talking about the person who lost their dad. No matter how rich and famous you are, especially with Michael being as close as he was to his father, it’s a very painful, delicate thing. He’s not the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He keeps things pretty close to the vest. I wasn’t expecting him to be very emotional about it. I was expecting matter-of-fact. And that’s pretty much what we got. There was a lot of thought put into how delicately can we ask these questions, and especially when it comes to questions about conspiracy theories that he was somehow responsible for his father’s death. To his credit, he answered everything head-on.”

Hehir said by the end of the second interview, he thought he had enough for around seven complete episodes. But he had not yet asked Jordan about the nuts and bolts of the 1998 playoffs, including the series against the Pacers and Jazz. He had an inkling that Jordan might do a third interview and that Polk and Portnoy would understand that 4 ½ hours with Jordan wasn’t enough to cover the 10 hours of the doc.

“To put it in perspective: ‘Andre the Giant’ was 80 minutes long and we got Vince McMahon for five and a half hours over the course of two days,” Hehir said. “The Fab Five was 100 minutes long and I got Jalen Rose for seven hours. So I wasn’t asking Michael to have those same proportions. I wasn’t going to ask him to give me 80 hours to get 10 hours. What we had agreed years before was two interviews and then some sort of lifestyle scene, be it golfing or fishing, something private, something access driven.

“One of the things that I had offered that summer of 2019 was, ‘Look, of course, we would love the access, but it’s more valuable to me to get a little more of his time in an interview chair than it is to get access.’ I think it became clear, and I give Curtis and Estee all the credit in the world here. They could have said, ‘You’ve had your chance and that’s it.’ And I would have had to somehow make do with what they had given me already. But they were flexible enough and involved in the process enough and dedicated to making this as great as it could be so we eventually scheduled one more interview for December in 2019.”

Interview 3: Dec. 10, 2019, South Florida 

By the time of the third interview, Hehir had decided on the format of the documentary. They still had some small holes to fill for earlier episodes and this would be an opportunity to get those in addition to the 1998 postseason.

“We hadn’t gotten really good sound from him on what it was like to beat the Lakers in 1991,” Hehir said. “We hadn’t got his version of the shrug game (Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals against the Trail Blazers). Sure, we could always go back and get basketball stories from him in the archives, or worst-case scenario, someone else could tell the story of him hitting six 3-pointers in the first half against the Blazers. You want those things from his perspective, but more important to me was to get things from him that no one else can tell us except for Michael. What is his overarching philosophy, how he approaches winning, how he approaches basketball. So this third interview was detail-driven as opposed to anecdote-driven.”

Hehir said the last question he asked all of the members of Chicago’s 1997-98 team was what they most proud of regarding their role in the dynasty.

“With Michael, it was interesting because I didn’t want to ask him, ‘How do you want to be remembered?’” Hehir said. “I think he bristles at the notion of this being a definitive documentary because he’s a 57-year-old man and he’s got a lot of life to live. So what I wanted to get out of him was, ‘How do you want to be remembered a long time from now?’ I did not want to express that question with any sort of finality that he would someday not be with us. So I said something like, 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now, which leaves the possibility open he’d still be alive, how do you want to be remembered as a player? Then the follow-up to that was how do you want to be remembered as a person. I think my very last question was: ‘Is there anything else that you want to add?’ He said, ‘I think we pretty much covered it.’ And everyone kind of laughed because it was done.”

After the final interview, which lasted three hours, “The Last Dance” crew had dinner at their hotel. “While we still had other interviews to do, it was a momentous moment for us because we had Michael Jordan wrapped for a Bulls documentary,” Hehir said. “We had been interviewing him for a couple of years and felt satisfied. We had done all we could to get the most out of our time with him.”

Hehir said one thing he does at the end of every interview session is film 10 seconds of quiet with everyone, including the subject. It’s a way to get the acoustics of the room.

“It is a silent count of 10 so the microphone can record the room,” Hehir said. “It’s for editing purposes. I said, ‘All right, 10 seconds, room tone, everybody, quiet, please.’ I counted 10 seconds to myself. Then I said, “OK, break.”

There was a beat of silence and then Michael Jordan spoke.

“That was 13,” Jordan said.

 

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One aspect I really like is Jordan’s sentiment that someone in the crowd would be watching him for the first time and he felt obliged to put on a performance for them.

 

The psychology of the man is extraordinary, especially his willingness to find the energy to self-motivate at all times. Even pick-up games in the Jordan Dome while filming Space Jam.

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  • 1 month later...

There are a good assortment of 30 for 30s on demand via Sky

 

Really enjoyed the Chuck & Tito one which is part history of the UFC but framed around the rise and rivalry of Chuck 'The Iceman' Lidell and Tito Ortiz

 

Also watched Chasing Tyson, which is a short stroll through bits of both Tyson's and Holyfeld's careers centred on their on off bout, and eventual meetings. I still get annoyed all these years on when a classic or big fight comes on and that weasel Jimmy Lennon is squeaking 'its showtime' instead of the infinitely better Buffer intro demanded by any big bout from the 80s/90s.

 

 

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Jon Bois and SB Nation recently completed a six-part history of the Seattle Mariners. It's very good indeed, even if you're not the biggest baseball fan.

 

Between SB Nation and his person channel there's a number of excellent little videos about sport.

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  • 9 months later...

Amazon have a new one of their behind the scenes documentaries up on Prime - Making Their Mark follows the 2020 AFL (Aussie Rules) season and some of the personalities behind it.  I was lucky enough to see an AFL game a couple of years ago and it's a fantastic sport.  Fast, tough and end to end.  (The AFL usually put 7-10 minutes highlights packages up on Youtube after every match.)

 

I'm only an episode in and they are introducing the players and staff.  However, they've already showcased Eddie Betts (an absolute genius who can score from anywhere) and Nic Natanui (6'6" Fijian, strong as a bull and with charisma to match).  So it looks at the very least to be a solid intro to the game. 

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  • 5 months later...
10 minutes ago, ckny said:

Schumacher documentary out today on Netflix. Telegraph gave it a 1 star review because there's no footage of how Michael is doing now, the fucking ghouls.


I just posted this in the F1 thread so apologies for crossposting but it seems relevant here too: 

 

Quote

 

I'm watching the new Schumacher documentary that just came out on Netflix today. 

 

I know we've probably all seen the footage from Imola 1994 many times, but just as a warning in case it's an issue - the documentary includes a full shot of Senna's fatal crash with no cutaway, plus maybe one or two minutes of him receiving trackside attention and being stretchered away. 

 

It's about 27 or 28 minutes in. It cuts from an onboard shot of Schumacher following Senna into Tamburello, straight to an offboard wide shot of the impact.  

 

I get why they've included it for narrative reasons, and as I say I've seen it many times before, but it still isn't at all easy to watch (nor should it be). 

 

I'm on my lunch break from work so I won't get to watch the rest of the film until this evening. Pretty impressive so far though. It's produced in a similar style to the Senna film, with no narrator, just lots of archive footage and talking heads. 

 

A fair bit of it is in German and French, so you will need to have the subtitles on.

 

 

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I've started watching The Last Dance based on the praise in this thread and so I'm still up on a school night instead of sleeping - but it's really good, isn't it?

 

I have no interest the sport, nor in any of the basketball clips neither do I know anything about the history of the game, but the narrative being weaved is really engrossing. I never knew just how big a star Jordan was, either, despite remembering when his trainer line first came out. His intensity and will to win is something else, isn't it?

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18 hours ago, ckny said:

Schumacher documentary out today on Netflix. Telegraph gave it a 1 star review because there's no footage of how Michael is doing now, the fucking ghouls.

That is weird isn’t it, considering the family were so heavily involved in its creation. The reason for the low rating, I mean, not the lack of “here’s an unrecognisable comatose man.”

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I think the families involvement is what stops it being what it could have been. It doesn't deliver anything new, I'm not even remotely interested in seeing how ill he is/how well he's recovered beyond hoping he's as well as he possibly could be, his condition isn't something I need to see.

 

I've posted more on the F1 thread but it doesn't really deliver Michael Schumacher the Formula 1 driver, it brushes off the controversies it does show, it doesn't deliver on how dedicated to his craft he was or how much work was required at Ferrari, it makes an effort to paint them as the underdog when they weren't ever that, just badly mismanaged for a long long time.

 

It's disappointing, really.

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I've only got the last episode of The Last Dance to watch and whilst initially thinking it was really going somewhere, I've been disappointed at how light touch it's all been as the episodes progressed. Whilst I wouldn't go quite so far as to call it a puff-piece, I don't think it's too far off. It was obviously always going to be about Jordan front-and-centre, but the long Athletic article with the director paints a very different picture to what eventually went on screen, which is pretty much just constant idolatry.

 

In terms of Jordan's intensity and will to win, a lot of it boils down to him picking a fight (real or imaginary) with an opponent and using that to motivate him - a setup which is repeated across the series a lot, just with different antagonists. For everybody else, they have little cameos but don't really have freedom to talk about, well, anything much other than how they fitted into Jordan's little bubble at various points. I read that some of the team were unhappy with how Pippen was portrayed, for example.

 

Where I guess I'm most let down is with the questions that aren't asked. There's no exploration of why his teammates didn't particularly like him as a person, other than a few people saying he was hard on them (and I don't think either Rodman nor Pippen said anything on screen about that aspect, did they?) There was no talk about what he was like outside of the locker room, why people never got close/were allowed to get close to him, nothing that humanised him. It was all robotic "He trains hard & plays hard and shouts at you if you don't meet his standards," as if they weren't allowed to expand on it (I assume Jordan had the ability to veto content on this?) There a lot of clips of Jordan talking about how he would only ever play for Phil Jackson, yet there's very little about why that relationship was so strong (and Jackson is barely in it.) Stuff with Jackson/Jordan and others disliking Jerry Krause isn't explored (though in googling the spelling his of surname I see he died in 2017 so perhaps they didn't want to speak ill of the dead.)

 

It's interesting watching this with my perspective on it because, as I said in my earlier post, I never really knew anything about Jordan, what he achieved or just how famous he was. Whilst I now have a better idea of his sporting accolades and how intense he was, I'm not getting anything more than that. Even the wider story around that last championship season feels a bit contrived as a reason to give some screen time to other players, rather than feeling their stories were fundamental to the success. Some of them make an important shot - well I'm sure that happened a lot during that (and every other) season, that's not really much of a story. Instead we get a bit of their background to pad out time but because we spend so little time with them anyway there's no feeling of getting to know what makes them tick.

 

Perhaps the comments in this thread built it up too much for me, but I get the enduring impression of it being a 10-hour show telling a 3-hour story. I don't really know quite what I was expecting from it, in truth, but something with a bit more teeth.

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