Pick-Six: Top sports stories that need “The Last Dance”-style documentaries
When ESPN first announced the creation of “The Last Dance,” the news took the sports world by storm. Whether it was a Michael Jordan fan, a basketball fan or a sports fan in general, everyone was clamoring for the 10-part documentary’s release.
That itch was only heightened when the COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponements of the NBA, NHL and MLB regular seasons, leaving viewers with no live sports to enjoy for months.
So, ESPN answered its audience’s calls and released “The Last Dance” two months early to fill a void in its programming, shattering viewership records in the process.
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Debates began circulating on all sorts of topics as a result, with analysts discussing who the greatest basketball player of all time truly is, whether Michael Jordan or Isiah Thomas was in the wrong after the Bulls defeated the Pistons in the playoffs for the first time, and everything in between.
One subtle debate that the documentary created, however, provides for an interesting “What if?”-type of scenario: Which sports story needs its own version of “The Last Dance”?
To help settle the conversation, we narrowed things down to the top six stories that could turn into potential production perfection:
6. The Redeem Team and the 2008 Olympics
After Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas brought their issues back to light in Episode 4 of “The Last Dance,” many began to wonder about a potential documentary about “The Dream Team” and the 1992 Olympics. The only problem? It’s already been created.
The next best thing? How about a documentary about the 2008 version of “The Dream Team”: The Redeem Team?
Former Heat star Dwyane Wade dropped the news in April of 2020 that the project is already in the works in the midst of “The Last Dance” airing on ESPN, highlighting the story of the United States’ 2008 gold medal run in Beijing.
>>RELATED: ‘The Last Dance’ Episode 2 synopsis/review: ‘I had to do what was best for me’
“It’s something that we’ve been working on for the last year or so,” Wade said on the Platform Basketball Podcast. “For me, that was a big year, 2008. I had to kind of redeem myself because everybody thought I was done. But that was an amazing time, man, and like that team, dog? Oh my god.”
It’s tough to know exactly what the documentary could or will entail at this point, especially after Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing in January of 2020. But, a lineup of interviews with Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Chris Bosh and Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski would certainly provide for some quality entertainment.
5. Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick is one of the most controversial and polarizing topics the sports world has ever seen. But, that’s exactly what makes for a good documentary, and it’s exactly why the story needs to be told in its fullest form on ESPN.
Interviews with Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Malcolm Jenkins, Jim Harbaugh, hell, even Jay-Z. Footage from the 2016 NFL season, the fallout involving President Donald Trump in the 2017 season, his workout in 2019 and everything in between. Pack it all into ten episodes like “The Last Dance” and get everyone involved. Then, prepare for the nonstop chaos it will create over the span of the five weeks it’s on TV.
>>RELATED: ‘The Last Dance’ Episode 3 synopsis/review: ‘You don’t put a saddle on a mustang’
While some fans will always prefer for athletes and teams to “stick to sports,” some of the best stories come when the lines between sports and politics are crossed. It creates a conversation, and heightens each athlete’s impact on society in the process. So, why not showcase the most clear example of that process, and turn it into the ultimate highlight reel of sports diplomacy.
4. Kobe Bryant’s Last Season
Similar to Michael Jordan and his last season with the Bulls, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant gave a film crew complete access to his final season in the NBA, and it looks like basketball fans looking for a more modern version of “The Last Dance” may be in luck as a result.
According to an ESPN report in April of 2020, Bryant had a camera crew with “unparalleled access” in locker rooms across the country, in the Lakers’ training room and practice facility, and on the team’s charter plane throughout the 2015-2016 season.
>>RELATED: Rest in peace, Kobe Bryant: Basketball world reacts as news breaks of NBA legend’s death in helicopter crash
“They had unprecedented and, by far, greater access than anyone else ever,” John Black, a member of the Lakers’ public relations department for 27 years, told ESPN. “We certainly allowed them to do everything we could within what the league would allow, and sometimes, with a wink and look-the-other-way, allowed them even more.”
Before his passing, Bryant reportedly was able to take a first glance at some of the footage that was shot from his final few months on the court, and now, ESPN may be able to create content to celebrate the life of the soon-to-be Hall of Famer.
While it won’t have the same ability to interview Bryant numerous times after interviews with former teammates, opponents and coaches, it would provide basketball royalty the chance to properly document their respect and admiration for one of the sport’s all-time greats, and could help cap off his movie-like story in the best way possible.
3. 2017 Astros season
The Astros’ cheating scandal is the ultimate baseball story that would’ve made for some great television if the 2020 season had started on time, but that postponement doesn’t take away from how perfect it would be for a 30-for-30 series on ESPN down the line.
The situation needs some years to fully simmer and complete itself, similar to the Bulls in “The Last Dance.” Players need to be able to go their own ways to be able to reflect without the umbrella of the franchise covering them and changing potential answers, similar to Jordan, Pippen or Phil Jackson talking about each other while they were in Chicago.
>>RELATED: ‘The Last Dance’ Episode 4 synopsis/review: ‘Times are changing’
Then, give Houston’s stars and enemies some microphones, and put them all on camera in 2030 or 2035. Allow them the chance to give the honest truth about everything that happened during the infamous 2017 season, and let them air it all out once and for all.
It’s the biggest scandal to hit baseball since the stars of the steroid era came under fire, and it deserves the ultimate spotlight when the time is right. ESPN, the ball’s in your court. Or, at least it will be in about a decade or so.
2. 2019-2020 Patriots
This one writes itself, but just like the Patriots franchise as a whole, it’s a tricky puzzle to figure out.
For nearly 20 years, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady were the kings of New England, winning six titles together and appearing in nine Super Bowls during their time together. But, there was always an underlying thought about the duo: Was it Brady benefiting from Belichick’s presence, or was it Belichick who needed Brady?
That thought showed up in numerous news stories throughout Brady’s time in a Patriots uniform, and many speculated about a potential rift between arguably the greatest head coach football’s ever seen, and arguably the greatest quarterback the sport’s ever had. Then, it all exploded as Brady departed Foxborough to take his talents to Tampa Bay and join the Buccaneers.
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No one outside of the organization truly knows what their full relationship is like, and has only ever seen the positive things the two have ever said about each other in public. But, in the age of social media, cameras have been around the locker room, practice field and sidelines for years at this point, and there has to be the material there to build an in-depth documentary once both parties leave the sport all together.
It makes a lot of sense for a crew to, at some point down the line, highlight the 2019-2020 Patriots season, and all that went into Brady’s final campaign in red, white and blue. The contract drama in the weeks leading up to the season, the 11-day long Antonio Brown saga, the Josh Gordon trade and the lack of offensive help TB12 had all year.
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Then, use it as a chance to build the comprehensive look at the decades-long relationship between Brady and Belichick, and get them both on camera to talk about it all candidly.
Why did I say it’s a tricky situation to maneuver around? Because Belichick doesn’t seem like someone to trash on anyone after the fact as it relates to football, especially when it’s his quarterback of 20 years. And, Brady seems to know his way around the media, and may not want to push on those buttons as it relates to Belichick, even when they’re both relaxing during retirement.
And, despite all of the rumors, this drama may not exist at all. Things may have ended as amicably as possible given the circumstances, and Brady may have simply wanted to take a chance elsewhere. But, given how it all ended, there’s reasonable speculation about some tension, and if it’s there, someone has to capture it like lightning in a bottle and turn it into absolute television gold.
1. 2018-2019 Warriors
If you’re looking for the exact same story as “The Last Dance,” look no further than the 2018-2019 Warriors.
Depending on how you view the team and their situation, the parallels are there. Warriors star Steph Curry or current Nets forward Kevin Durant, meet Michael Jordan. Warriors sharp-shooter Klay Thompson, meet Scottie Pippen. Warriors forward and vocal, physical player Draymond Green, meet Dennis Rodman. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, meet his old Bulls head coach, Phil Jackson.
Don’t want to stop there? Former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson and former Bulls coach Doug Collins, who both went through controversial firings to end their tenures with their respective teams. Warriors owner Joe Lacob and former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, who both were criticized for their decision-making with each firing.
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The cast is almost too similar, and the timeline is just as familiar. The Warriors are a dynasty that almost pulled off a three-peat on two different occasions with titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018, who topped the Bulls’ record 72-win season and are the closest thing modern-day fans may ever get to the Bulls of the 1990’s.
Both franchises knew that their respective dynasties would change after one specific season, with the Bulls calling the 1997-1998 season their “Last Dance,” and the Warriors knowing change was on the way as they went through the 2018-2019 campaign.
The handling of star-studded injuries, like the Bulls with Pippen, and the Warriors with Durant. The rifts behind the scenes, like the Bulls higher-ups with the players, and Durant and Green. The success between the two over the span of a decade, and the downfall after each squad’s final hurrah as a complete unit.
Similar to the Patriots and Bulls, you need to establish the base with the rise of the star player(s) and the dynasty, before diving in on the implosion.
And, like the Astros and Patriots, and even the Bulls’ own story, this needs its time to marinate, and fans need to see how all of the parties involved finish out their careers. Can Durant win a title elsewhere and cement his legacy as one of the greatest of all time? Can Curry, Thompson and Green keep up the tradition of winning once they all are back on the court together and healthy again?
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Once the smoke clears, it’ll provide for the perfect deep dive for a basketball fan that followed the team’s rise, and everything that came with it. The battles with LeBron James and the Cavaliers, and James Harden and the Rockets. The drama in the locker room, and all that went into the creation of arguably the most talented super-team the league has ever seen.
If it’s possible, it’s the perfect comparison to “The Last Dance.” And, if it even matches half or two-thirds of the buzz that “The Last Dance” has created, which it likely would, then the story will establish itself as the best possible option of the bunch.
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