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What The Last Dance Failed To Mention

Over the last few weeks, the Michael Jordan docu-miniseries The Last Dance has provided the communal sports experience that we all need right now. The project, from documentary filmmaker Jason Hehir, aired its final two episodes last weekend, bringing a nearly 25-year adventure in sports cinema to a satisfying close.

The odyssey to get The Last Dance made and aired is perhaps worthy of its own epic documentary treatment. Hehir and his team followed the '97-'98 Chicago Bulls championship team with cameras in hand and the divine imprimatur of the legendary organization (via The New York Post). As a result, The Last Dance contains never-before-seen footage from this historic run, and more than a few juicy details about the titanic clash of personalities taking place between coach Phil Jackson, star Michael Jordan, and GM Jerry Krause.

It's true that any documentary – even one with ten hours to fill – has to pick and choose what material to include. A project like The Last Dance needs a thesis, and it can't spare any screen time on erroneous facts that fall outside the project's scope. This process of inclusion and exclusion is an inherently rhetorical task. Reasonable minds can differ as to whether or not this bit or that from a career that spanned decades necessitated inclusion, and, for the most part, audiences understand the temporal and narrative limitations of the medium.

There's risk, however, in over-curating to make a point. There's a balance between relevance and reality that every documentarian has to strike.

The Last Dance is very much a series about Jordan the Superhero; hence, the focus on the '97-'98 climax of his championship three-peat with the Chicago Bulls. This was not a 360-degree look at the man, the legend, but an exercise in cementing the legacy of the legend. To that end, Hehir's laser-focus on Jordan's final championship run in Chicago was probably a savvy choice. That doesn't make it any less a choice

It's hard to argue that at least a few facts from Jordan's heroic career didn't merit more mention than they received. Here are the most glaring omissions from The Last Dance.

Jordan's second act didn't live up to the hype

Arguments for the supremacy of King James aside, Michael Jordan has maintained his reputation as the greatest basketball player to ever live largely in spite of a middling second act that most fans would prefer to forget.

After completing the sixth and final championship run with the Bulls that The Last Dance chronicles in meticulous detail, Jordan made the decision to retire as part of a mass exodus from the franchise that also swept up coach Phil Jackson, and supporting cast members Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Ironically, it was the rebellious Rodman who hung on the longest out of the four. Unlike Pippen (who was traded), Jordan left of his own volition, but the second attempt at retirement still didn't take. His Airness returned to the game in 2001 as a member of the Washington Wizards, beginning a two-season run that resulted in exactly zero playoff appearances. Jordan's Wizards couldn't even get it done after the 2002 addition of all-star guard Jerry Stackhouse. In any examination of Jordan's outstanding career, these two less-than-outstanding seasons feel relevant.

Sports Illustrated also noted the omission, writing, "There are no glimpses here of his lower-octane self playing in his two final seasons with the Wizards, no deconstruction of his less-than-stellar career as a decision-maker with Washington and, later, with the Hornets, where today he remains chairman of a franchise that has won exactly three playoff games since 2006, the year Jordan first bought in."

The docu-miniseries' focus almost makes it seem like Jordan went out on the ultra-high note of 1998's three-peat. We agree that it would have made a nice crowning achievement, but real life doesn't always follow proper story structure, and Jordan's actual denouement was a lot more anti-climactic.

Michael Jordan's family is nowhere to be seen

Whether this decision was made by Hehir or MJ, himself, it seems a little odd that Jordan's children at the time of his last championship – Jeffrey, Marcus, and Jasmine – didn't merit more screen time. They get exactly one minute of attention in the final episode of The Last Dance, then disappear from the narrative. Hehir claims responsibility for the decision to exclude them. He told The Athletic, "I wasn't interested in the opinion of any wife or kids in this. We had the storytellers we wanted, and I felt like we had the story covered from every angle." It seems kind of hard to argue you covered "every angle" when the family life of your subject is left almost completely by the wayside.

Sports Illustrated speculates that Jordan "had a lot to say" about keeping his family out of the miniseries. Back in 2006, he divorced Juanita Jordan, his wife at the time of the '97-'98 season. Even when she was married to MJ, she never took up much of the spotlight. Jordan has never been one to elevate his family–unlike, say, Steph Curry. Even his current wife, Yvette Prieto, with whom Jordan has two more children, never really steps into the limelight. Whether you choose to view the marginalization of Jordan's wife and kids as a creative choice on the part of the director or part of some pattern from Jordan's career, the fact remains that a certain human element feels ... absent from The Last Dance. Maybe human elements aren't helpful when you're trying to deify a man.

Without more attention paid to these complicated aspects of Jordan's life and career, the docu-miniseries sometimes feels like a fluff piece, an elaborate expression of hero-worship from a lifelong fan, or a 10-hour infomercial for Michael Jordan's legacy. That's not to say The Last Dance isn't equal parts entertaining and fascinating, and it isn't necessarily even a critique. The Last Dance is what Hehir set out to make it. By that measure, the series should go down as a rousing success.

You can watch all ten episodes of The Last Dance streaming on ESPN or Sling, or you can wait for Jordan's next chapter in Space Jam 2.