The Last Dance, the 10-hour ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls, was only green-lit when Jordan gave his approval to use the archived footage. It was MJ who had control of the project, and it was only after LeBron James started to threaten MJ’s legacy as the GOAT that suddenly Jordan was okay with the project. Jordan’s production company helped make the documentary.
Ken Burns has a problem with that.
Burns, the most famed documentary maker in America (The Civil War, Jazz, Baseball, Country Music, and more), spoke to the Wall Street Journal about Jordan having a hand in The Last Dance.
The series counts the basketball great’s production company as a partner, an arrangement Mr. Burns says he would “never, never, never, never” agree to. “I find it the opposite direction of where we need to be going,” he says.
“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, period,” he says. “And that’s not the way you do good journalism … and it’s certainly not the way you do good history, my business.”
Burns is not wrong.
While The Last Dance has not whitewashed Jordan — even MJ himself though he would look like a “horrible guy” — it also paints him as the protagonist on a heroic quest. Not a flawless hero, but absolutely a hero. It is not going to go too dark or ask too hard a question, because Jordan is the man who saves the day in this story. (That does not mean he should be asked about the conspiracy theory of him playing baseball because of gambling, author Roland Lazenby did an excellent job shooting that down on the PBT Podcast.)
That doesn’t make The Last Dance terrible viewing. It’s well done storytelling. Just know in advance it does not come without bias.