Bahamian at the center of ‘The Last Dance’
One of the most anticipated documentaries in sports entertainment this century debuted on the ESPN Network last night, and the manner in which it was created, is due in large part to a Bahamian. Given the stoppage in sports due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, fans the world over are longing for any kind of sports entertainment. They got a semblance of that last night with the first two parts of the “The Last Dance” documentary.
Andy Thompson, the brother for Bahamian basketball legend Mychal “Sweet Bells” Thompson and uncle of Golden States Warriors’ star two-guard Klay Thompson, was the mastermind and now executive producer of that documentary, which details the last ride of the Chicago Bulls championship run in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1998, featuring Michael Jordan who is widely considered the greatest player of all-time.
The first two parts of the 10-episode documentary aired last night and it will continue for about a month on ESPN and Netflix.
Jordan and the Bulls had just come off their second consecutive NBA title and fifth in seven years. They were looking for their second three-peat in an eight-year span.
Prior to the start of the season, it was learned that it would be Phil Jackson’s last as the head coach of the Bulls. Given the journey and success of both, Jordan revealed that he was not interested in playing for anyone else, and with that, ‘The Last Dance’ surfaced.
According to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who at the time served as the person in charge of NBA Entertainment, it was Thompson who concocted the idea. Thompson had been working with NBA Entertainment for about a decade. Silver liked the plan and the process of selling it to then commissioner David Stern began.
Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Jackson both agreed to the creation of the documentary with certain stipulations, but given the nature of the NBA and the knowledge which Thompson possessed due to his brother playing in the league, he was already familiar with players and certain protocol.
The ultimate hurdle for Thompson and crew would be securing finances from the league. According to Silver, Stern, who passed away on New Year’s Day this year after suffering a brain hemorrhage in early December, signed off on unlimited funds for the creation of the film. High-definition video used today didn’t exist at that time, but Thompson had already made a decision to capture the season on very costly, high-quality film.
He said he was moved by the tale of the 1986-87 Edmonton Oilers, a video called “The Boys On The Bus”, which detailed a season with National Hockey League (NHL) legend Wayne Gretzky and the eventual Stanley Cup Champions Oilers.
“No one in the NBA had ever done this, and you’re not just doing this with a run-of-the-mill NBA team. You’re doing this with the greatest player in the history of the game in Michael Jordan, who was very protective of his image and his privacy,” said Thompson to ESPN.
It was discovered that Thompson actually became quite familiar with Jordan while working at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It was reported by ESPN that he had worked quite closely with Ahmad Rashad, a friend and confidant of Jordan. Rashad hosted the show ‘NBA Inside Stuff’. Also, Thompson was aware that Jordan once idolized his brother, a little known fact that had certainly gone under the radar to Bahamian sports fans and fans of basketball in general.
Silver said: “Andy’s view was, ‘we need to find a way to capture this team in its glory’.
The Bulls went on to win 62 games that year, matching Most Valuable Player (MVP) Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz for the league lead in the regular season. They breezed through the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs then took out the Indiana Pacers in a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the NBA Finals, Jordan and Bulls met up with Malone and the Jazz for the second year in a row and took them out in six games for the second year in a row.
Thompson’s crew shot hundreds of hours of film. He said his familiarity and awareness of everyday life in the league led him in the right direction, in terms of putting the film together successfully.
“That gave me a huge advantage in dealing with players. I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t intimidated. I could speak their language, so I could develop relationships quicker because of that, and that’s what helped me navigate the course of the season, because access didn’t just happen overnight,” said Thompson to ESPN. “There was a feeling out process for us and the team and the team for us.”
Prior to the airing of the documentary, the footage for ‘The Last Dance’ had been locked away in a vault at NBA Entertainment for nearly 25 years.
It’s just so surreal that it was a Bahamian who actually came up with the original idea; but given the advancement of Bahamians in sports in general over the years, it’s certainly not a major surprise. The first two parts of the 10-episode series aired last night. It will continue next Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPN and at 12 midnight next Monday on Netflix with parts three and four.
Given the journey of Jordan and the way he ended his tenure with the Bulls, it is one of the most anticipated documentaries in quite some time in sports entertainment. Not to mention, with sports at a standstill due to COVID-19, fans are longing for any kind of sports entertainment.
The airing of the 10-part series couldn’t be more timely.