The Drama of The Last Dance Was Made for a Real Housewives Franchise

Illustration for article titled The Drama of iThe Last Dance /iWas Made for a iReal/i iHousewives/i Franchise
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ESPN’s documentary The Last Dance is a 10-hour epic dedicated to the might and power of the Chicago Bulls when they were good. But more than that, it’s the story of Michael Jordan, the most important person to ever touch a basketball, according to Michael Jordan. The doc, which aired its eighth installment on Sunday night, has been manna from heaven for sports fans who have nothing to watch, but for those less interested in the trappings of being a champion, the documentary has also provided an unprecedented look at the levels of pettiness basketball players can achieve when they really dedicate themselves. With all the drama going on behind closed doors and playing out in the media, the Bulls of the 1990s were the perfect model for a figure like Andy Cohen to start a Housewives franchise.

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Just like any good Housewives series, The Last Dance features its very own queen bee, which is, of course, Michael Jordan. In this particular doc, the story of the Bulls is told almost entirely through Jordan’s perspective, with other people’s thoughts and lives sprinkled about for flavor. The trademark of this domineering figure is to control the narrative and minimize any opposing viewpoints—just ask Bethanny Frankel or Lisa Vanderpump. They also need to exert perpetual control by any means necessary, which Jordan does without breaking a sweat. Throughout the doc, former teammates talk about how Jordan was a bully during practices and borderline verbally abusive. When Scott Burrell wasn’t working hard enough in Jordan’s opinion, he harassed him until he got better, claiming the whole time that Burrell was lazy and “didn’t want it” or calling him “hoe” and “bitch” during free throw practice. Pippen puts a neat bow on the bullying segment by saying, “We needed that,” further solidifying Jordan’s stronghold over teammates he gaslit.

Jordan’s ability to hold a grudge surpasses that of even Teresa Giudice, as was made clear by the Isiah Thomas/handshake debacle of 1991. To this day, Jordan still has not forgiven Thomas, after Thomas and some Pistons players walked off the court following a loss to the Bulls during the Eastern Conference Finals. Even Teresa eventually forgave Danielle Staub for being a backstabbing “prostitution whore,” or whatever it was Teresa felt like being angry about for a decade.

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For every Teresa, there needs to be a Melissa Gorga and here, that’s Steve Kerr. Before coaching one of the most dominant teams in the West, Kerr was known primarily for being the guy who Jordan punched in the face during practice. Kerr admitted to shoving Jordan first after a particularly tense verbal exchange with his teammate. Just like Teresa and Melissa, Kerr and Jordan were feuding members of the same family who needed to have a huge blowout in order to smooth things over and come together. “The best thing I did was stand up to him,” Kerr said during the Last Dance segment covering the infamous punch. It was Phil Jackson, an incredibly tall iteration of Caroline Manzo, who facilitated their resolution. Jackson ejected Jordan from practice and when Jordan miraculously saw the error of his ways, Jackson gave Jordan Kerr’s phone number to apologize. Is it the last known Jordan apology in recorded history? Possibly. Jackson was really the glue that held the crazies together much like Caroline was during her time on The Real Housewives of New Jersey and just like Caroline, Jackson was pushed out in favor of sustaining peak levels of drama.

To maintain the production, you need a Gizelle Bryant. We need only look to late Bulls manager Jerry Krause, who died in 2017 and was widely blamed for both making the franchise great and running it into the ground. For everything he did, Krause was the spoon that stirred the pot, which is the most valuable position to play. Everyone loves to hate to love the person who instigates the drama only to pretend they have no interest in drama at all. Krause, who simply wanted to be recognized for his work in the front office, constantly antagonized his players and the media by trying to reinforce that he was the top dog. Krause didn’t get the memo that there can only be one monarch per Housewives location.

Giving everyone a much-needed reprieve from petty nonsense was Dennis Rodman, who was just there for a good time. Rodman walked so countess Luann could run. But Rodman brings a different kind of drama to the documentary—he is firmly rooted not in competition or basketball but the desire to have the most amount of fun possible. Rodman was cool; in fact, he wasn’t all uncool, as Luann would say.

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Despite the wealth of tension and enmity between characters, The Last Dance is little more than an extremely long reminder of how great Michael Jordan was, not that he ever let anyone forget. As a basketball player, he was petty, brutal, possibly addicted to gambling, and a generally rude man, some of which his fans and teammates overlooked at the time because he earned six championship rings. It’s not that people don’t realize this level of petty drama exists in sports—it’s the main reason people watch—but not many were likely aware of the depth of grudges Jordan’s held from the ’80s and ’90s. There really is no reason the doc couldn’t have been cut down to four hours of the best squabbles that took place over the years. But if ESPN is desperate for an 11th hour, then a supercut of Jordan verbally dunking on every person he ever played with or against would be highly entertaining. More chaos, less selective history.

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This is exactly the type of analysis this series needs and I am very much here for it.