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updated: 4/23/2021 2:20 PM

Jim O’Donnell: A year later, ‘The Last Dance’ remains a very neat TV feat

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  • Michael Jordan is interviewed for "The Last Dance."

    Michael Jordan is interviewed for "The Last Dance."
    Courtesy of ESPN Films

 

ONE YEAR AGO THIS WEEKEND, the United States was reeling as the COVID-19 pandemic steamrolled into its second month.

There was no light at the end of the tunnel.

The dimensions of the tunnel itself weren't even all that clear.

Live sports were collateral damage.

Other than reruns, empty-air chatter and baseball from Korea presented at the starting times of a milkman, Sportin' America had nothing to hold on to.

That is, except for a 10-part infotainment series on ESPN -- mislabeled as a documentary -- titled, "The Last Dance."

Now part of the new-mill American sports media canon, the series focused on the amazing 14-year association of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

In real life, Jordan's time with the Bulls had it all -- narrative, flow, flair, heroes, villains, tension points, triumphs.

Ernest Hemingway couldn't have asked for much more.

In reel life -- in the hands of director Jason Hehir -- "The Last Dance" strained to retain the tag of "documentary."

Ken Burns screamed "foul," perhaps because there wasn't enough fiddle music and letters to home from forlorn soldiers.

Scottie Pippen later said it was all "about Michael just to uplift himself and be glorified."

Horace Grant told intimates it was "90 percent 'B.S.,' but good TV."

Selectors behind the 2020 Emmy Awards said it was good enough that Hehir and associates received a winged statuette for "Outstanding Documentary."

Up close and personal, there were many frayed feelings about who was included and who was left out as interview subjects.

Those who invested enough emotion to have any sort of negative feeling about "The Last Dance" missed a critical point of intent at inception:

The project was supposed to refresh and expand the truthiness and mythology surrounding Jordan in as positive a light as possible.

It succeeded.

Hehir had close to three full years from conception to first airing, not to mention the complete cooperation and oversight of Jordan, who participated in the project's profits.

A 57-year-old billionaire from Wilmington, N.C, who has spent the majority of his life fastidiously protecting a golden global image isn't suddenly going to act like Saul on the road to Damascus and confess all.

And His Royal and Aging Airness didn't.

There will be sweeping, credible biographies of Jordan in all sorts of media in the years to come.

There will likely also be a tome or two on the ways and means of Jerry Reinsdorf.

If they are properly researched and crafted, the books on Reinsdorf will be much more engaging, especially for those endlessly fascinated by "The Chicago Way."

In the meantime, "The Last Dance" stands as a sharply entertaining work of television.

It's original positioning as a sports cultural oasis during America's dank spring of 2020 was merely a bonus of timing.

STREET-BEATIN': The greatest thing about the start of the NFL draft on Thursday is that it will end three months of ceaseless swill about who might do what. (Recaps of the military career of Prince Philip have been more bearable.) ...

Pete Rosengren -- The Daily Herald vice president who died so heroically in Florida last month -- was around the basketball program at Carthage College long enough to see Bosko Djurickovic gain traction with a 22-3 season in 1999-2000. (The "gofundme" in his honor has topped $170,000.) ...

Maywood police and Chief Val Talley have made an arrest in the March 13 carjacking of former Bulls play-by-play man Bill Hazen. Troy Hughes, 18, of Bellwood, was charged with two counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking. ...

The meandering yaks overseeing the upcoming ghost meet at Arlington Dark finally got versatile Dave White to sign on as racing secretary. He's a solid pro who has been working in regional racing offices for years and deserves much better. ...

Coach Hank Szymanski turned a hale and hearty 80 this week. The longtime District 214 math teacher strengthened basketball programs at Prospect, Arlington and Rolling Meadows, crescendoing as George Zigman's ace assistant on AHS's fabled 1982 Elite Eight outfit. (Champaign Cardinals included: Chris Berg, Larry Tellschow, mad bomber Rick Elkins, Ted Wolfe and current Bears senior adviser of operations and safety John Bostrom.) ...

Fascinating that Joe Buck and LeVar Burton are in the probable potpourri of fill-in "Jeopardy!" hosts. (MSNBC's Brian Williams and Jimmie "Dy-no-mite!" Walker must not be available.) ...

And Teth Barr, on the two recent outings of Cleveland soft server Zach Plesac vs. Carlos Rodon and the White Sox: "Lake Erie hasn't seen such shelling since Oliver Hazard Perry retook Put-in-Bay."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.