Andy Thompson cherishes work on ‘The Last Dance’

Andy Thompson said he’s honored to be the mastermind behind “The Last Dance” documentary, detailing Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ final championship run in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and wishes to alert young Bahamians of the many opportunities available to them through sports entertainment.

Andy, the younger brother of Bahamian basketball legend Mychal “Sweet Bells” Thompson and uncle of Golden State Warriors’ star two-guard Klay Thompson, originally got the idea for the 10-part documentary while working with a film crew covering ‘The Dream Team” in Barcelona, Spain, in their pursuit of Olympic gold in 1992 for the United States (U.S.). Working with NBA Entertainment, Thompson brought his idea back to the U.S. after “The Dream Team” won gold and the wheels were set in motion.

Prior to the 1997 NBA season, he figured it was the ideal time to feature Jordan and the Bulls, who were in search of their second three-peat in an eight-year span. Speaking to Guardian Sports yesterday, executive producer of “The Last Dance” Thompson said everything just came together perfectly at the right time.

“At NBA Entertainment in 1992, we always had just basic type of features, so this presented a really unique opportunity for me to go out and be embedded with a team from the beginning of training camp straight through to the end of the season, shooting every day from practice to the locker room, on the team plane, hotels. [We] were capturing so many interesting moments,” he said. “I determined that it would have to be with the right team and in the right place. Michael Jordan was winning championships and the Bulls became this super team. In 1997, I felt that this was the team and this was the moment where we could take a film crew, be embedded with the team and capture the journey of that final season.”

Thompson said it certainly wasn’t an easy task, but given his familiarity with the NBA, player movement and habits, and everyday NBA life with his brother playing in the league, it was easier for him to adjust. Younger brother Andy suffered a career-ending injury while playing professional basketball in 1986, and when the NBA came knocking with a new career path later that year, he answered the call right away and went into production.

“Michael has always been one of my biggest supporters. It was he and Clyde Drexler who urged me to take the job at NBA Entertainment. I went, started in 1987 and this is where I am today,” said Thompson. “This is a very special subject. It’s the holy grail of documentaries. Subjects like this and stories on Michael Jordan don’t come along very often. This was the perfect time to bring something like this to life. Proud is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel. I am very honored to have played a part in this, but more importantly, I want to show the young kids in The Bahamas what’s possible.

“Who would have ever thought that a young kid growing up in Nassau would have ever been behind a project of this magnitude? There are opportunities for other Bahamian kids out there. You don’t have to be a sports star. There are opportunities in production, writers, cameramen, audio guys. [T]here are a lot of jobs behind the scenes. These careers pay a lot of money. If Bahamians could realize that there are hundreds of jobs out there in industries generating billions of dollars, they could take advantage of some of these opportunities. I’m proud that I could be someone who opens the doors for many more to walk through.”

“The Last Dance” series has surfaced as the top documentary in sports entertainment today. It comes up in sports circles everywhere, as fans the world over come to discover and appreciate how arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time, and one of the greatest basketball dynasties of all-time, were able to accomplish what they did. In 1998, the Bulls completed their second three-peat in an eight-year span, but with a preconceived notion that it would have been the last year together for the core of the team and Head Coach Phil Jackson, the season was dubbed “The Last Dance”. As scripted, Jackson walked away afterwards, following a directive at the beginning of the year that he would not return after that season; Jordan retired again; and co-star Scottie Pippen was traded. Others moved on.

Sensing that a championship run was quite feasible in their final season together, Thompson said he and his team didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to get it all on film.

“At first, we were just trying to get through each and every practice and avoid being thrown off the bus. We had access but it wasn’t complete – we had to negotiate access on a daily basis,” said Thompson. “The goal was just to try to make it through the season and hope that the Bulls won. Once they won, then we could say that we had a great story. Even when it was done, no one could have predicted that it would have become a 10-part, force of nature, incredible documentary that would take television and the internet by storm. It was so unexpected.”

Still, it took 20-plus years for the series to come to fruition. After being locked away in a vault for more than two decades, the idea finally resurfaced to retell the story of the journey of the Bulls dynasty in the 90s. With the world going through the COVID-19 pandemic, and sports taking a direct hit worldwide, this period was felt to be the perfect time to air the short series.

“The NBA partnered with Mandalay Pictures and they are the ones who sold the concept to Michael Jordan and his team to bring the documentary out two years ago,” said Thompson. “It took a while to get to this point because Michael walked away from the game in 1998 and then came back with the Wizards and then after he retired again, he wanted to take a break from any production telling any part of the story. He got into ownership and took his post-basketball career in another direction. It just sat in a vault for 20-plus years.

“It came up again two years ago, and when COVID-19 came into existence and everyone was on lockdown, ESPN came on board and they sped up the production. They said that this would be a great opportunity to fill those time slots when there were suppose to be games. The editors and producers were working 24 hours around the clock to get this out on time and it has been a relief to a lot of people who are locked down in their houses, to get a great look at something historic that happened 20-plus years ago. It’s a great story.”

Stories have surfaced that Jordan himself was concerned about his image prior to the release of the documentary, and since its release, it has received some backlash, with sports pundits questioning the veracity of some of the details. It has also brought back to life a hot topic over the years, about greatness, with fans debating who is better between Jordan and current NBA superstar LeBron James.

“I don’t think there is any backlash that wasn’t expected. If you do any type of documentary, it is going to be a person’s version of what they remember. There are different ways that people see history, so there isn’t any controversy there. This is Michael Jordan’s version and that’s cool. It is what it is,” said Thompson.

The Bahamian trailblazer said one of the persons he would like to give credit to in the production of the documentary is fellow producer Sean Kelly, who he says did a lot of the dirty work.

“He did a lot of the journalistic work and [a] lot of the behind-the-scenes work, while I kind of followed Michael quite a bit. Sean deserves a lot of credit in the production of this documentary. He was my wingman and I couldn’t have done this without him,” said Thompson.

The 10-part series debuted on ESPN on April 19 and concluded on May 17. All 10 parts can be seen on Netflix.

Thompson said he’s just grateful to have been given the opportunity and is looking forward to many more Bahamians rising to the forefront, not just in sports as athletes, but behind-the-scenes in other aspects of sports entertainment as well. 

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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