The Spring of 2020 was definitely the right time to air The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty in the 1990s, as it was perfectly positioned to help starving sports fans get over the drought in basketball, football and every other pro game under the sun.
With little sign so far of when the NBA and other world basketball leagues will resume play under the shadow of the coronavirus, the show gave hoops fans a chance to live through the epic ’90s with a sensational documentary featuring Jordan’s entire career along with insiders’ details of his last season with the Bulls.
Using amazing footage from the archives, the ESPN Films and Netflix co-produced 10-part miniseries drew widespread interest from over 23.8 million households outside the US after debuting on April 19.
The documentary, which ended on May 17, also averaged 5.6 million viewers per episode in the US.
But The Last Dance sparked debate over some of Jordan’s comments about his former teammates, and the show has been criticized for showing the Bulls’ glory days too much exclusively through Jordan’s prism.
Horace Grant, who won three NBA titles with the Bulls in 1991,1992 and 1993, called a statement by Jordan accusing him of being the leak in the book “Jordan Rules” a “complete lie.” The book was published by journalist Sam Smith in 1992, revealing a different side of Jordan and his controversial relationship with his teammates.
In the documentary, Jordan was not happy about the content of the book.
“I didn’t contribute to that. That was Horace. He was telling everything that was happening within the group,” he said during the docuseries.
Speaking to ESPN Radio in Chicago last week, Grant denied the claim.
“He puts out this lie that I was the source behind it. Sam and I have always been great friends. We’re still great friends. But the sanctity of that locker room, I would never put anything personal out there,” he said.
Scottie Pippen, another Bulls legend, was “beyond livid” at the documentary’s treatment of him, the ESPN 1000 radio show’s David Kaplan reported.
“He is so angry at Michael and how he was portrayed, called selfish, called this, called that, that he’s furious that he participated and did not realize what he was getting himself into,” Kaplan said.
Nevertheless, Pippen and Grant were lucky guys, as they had a chance to appear in the documentary to talk about the memoirs from their perspectives or respond to some claims.
Having won two straight NBA titles in 1991 and 1992 with the Chicago Bulls, Hodges is another unhappy former teammate of Jordan but was surprisingly not among the 106 interviewees of the series.
Last Dance offered ‘entertainment’
Born in Illinois, the 59-year-old former Bulls guard spoke to Anadolu Agency about the controversial documentary, political activism and role of Jordan in the team.
Hodges said he is upset over the documentary portraying that Jordan achieved everything by himself like a “hero” as the roles of other players and staff were underestimated in the achievements. But he believes that The Last Dance is the best sports documentary ever as it came at the right time for sports lovers amid this self-quarantine period.
“That’s the main thing — that everybody got a chance to get their minds off this [coronavirus] madness for a little while. And you know, every time, they get two hours of Michael Jordan.”
“I’m sure it’ll probably be the most successful sports documentary ever. I didn’t really look at it for what other people are looking at. I just think that in the show, Michael were able to tell the story of what his career was like and some things that people did know about him and his career. So for me, it was a situation where I looked at it as the entertainment value.”
Hodges says with this show, fans were able to see what happens behind the scenes.
“When you’re just a sports fan, you are seeing it from the outside. You are seeing the six world championships and actual team meetings. You’re not seeing a lot of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. And I think with this documentary, it has been able to give the fans a little peek into what actually goes on to win a championship.
“We have a lot of things to give the fans a peek inside of what it’s like to be a mega superstar,” he said.
Viewers saw little of Hodges in the documentary, despite his being part of the Chicago Bulls’ destiny in their first two championships. Hodges averaged 10.0, 6.5, 5.0 and 4.3 points, respectively, in four seasons from — from 1988 through 1992.
But Hodges took no issue with his lack of presence in the documentary.
“I’m happy about it, actually. I’m kind of glad that I wasn’t a part of that. It’s so commercial.
“And the value that I brought to our team was a level of consciousness, a level of critical thinking.”
Hodges ‘wasn’t revelant’ to producer’s story
Hodges was known for social justice activism and never hesitated to raise his voice for black rights during his career. A three-time winner of the NBA’s Three-Point Contest, he previously publicly criticized other black NBA players over their lack of support in the fight for the black community against the discrimination they suffer.
“For me, I grew up as a baby during the civil rights movement.”
“So obviously, there’s a reason in his (Jordan) mind and in the mind of the producer, who’s an executive producer, that Craig Hodges wasn’t relevant to his story,” he said.
“And I’m cool with that. When you look at it from that perspective, he has to answer that question of why did you have Craig Hodges part of it, where you can talk to all of our teammates.”
Hodges is also bothered by Jordan’s statement that the Bulls team was like a “cocaine circus” when Jordan joined the team in 1984.
He believes that Jordan should have cared about the privacy of the former teammates.
“We were on that first team. He said we were a traveling cocaine circus. This is divisiveness. There are players among the team that loved Jordan, played hard for him, and others who are sitting at home watching the documentary, but he threw them under the bus.”
Hodges confirmed that some Bulls players used cocaine at the time, but the documentary would talk about it in a diplomatic way.
“During that period of time — and that was the height of the cocaine, that was the height of it — it was party time in America.”
‘System that allowed him to become superstar’
The Last Dance also causes some misunderstandings over Jordan’s impact on the championships, as the role of the coaching staff was underestimated, according to Hodges.
“It’s almost as though Michael is the only player inspired by the game that we all love and I don’t see that at all. I think it’s just a matter of the way that he framed it. He framed it in a way that made him look as a tough person.”
“I just think that God blessed him with a certain set of athletic skills that matched with a great coaching staff. A system that allowed him to become the superstar. People have a misunderstanding, as they think he won six championships by himself, and that wasn’t the case at all. For me, I understood that Mike was a different person than what people see. A lot of his success came from the game plan that the coaches put in front of us as a team and he and his teammates had to go out and execute.”
Hodges also stressed that the team of 1990-1991 was the best team in basketball history.
The Bulls gained their first championship at the end of the 1990-1991 season after beating the Magic Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the finals.
After winning back-to-back championships, the Bulls waived Hodges in 1992, and surprisingly he did not receive any offer from the NBA teams. He believes that the NBA blackballed him due to his outspoken political activism for oppressed groups in society.
“I was an athlete that was outspoken and understood some issues to speak forthrightly about them, he said, “so it wasn’t a matter of me not being able to play. It was a matter of teams and the league.”
Hodges delivered a hand-written letter to President George H. W. Bush when the Bulls visited the White House following the 1992 NBA Championship.
The letter was about the economic and social problems of the black people in the society.
‘Some people choose to make dollars’
The documentary also fueled some debate over Jordan’s lack of support for the black senator in the 1990s. In the fifth episode, we see that Jordan declined to endorse Harvey Gantt, a Democratic candidate from North Carolina running for a Senate seat against Republican Jesse Helms in 1990.
Hodges was not surprised when Jordan did not support Gantt, since he would prioritize money for him and his family.
“I think he made a decision in his life that he was gonna be economically solvent as best he could and doing things to make sure that he kept his money up, so I can understand. That’s not how we operate when we talk about understanding the history of where you come from. So that we could play a sport that we love during a period of time when my granddad couldn’t play basketball in 1928 because he couldn’t touch a white person. So things have come along because of the struggles of our ancestors.
“Some people choose to make dollars while they can, which is understandable for them and their family.”
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