ESPN’s docu-series “The Last Dance” is over and with it, people are itching for more quality content from the world of sports as we continue to wait out the COVID-19 sports shutdown. “The Last Dance” followed the 90’s Bulls, specifically Michael Jordan as he helped build the Bulls into a dominant power in the 90’s, then retired to Birmingham to play baseball after the death of his father, then came back to win more titles, ending with their sixth title in the 90’s.
It’s a story that is well worth the 10 hours. I don’t even really like basketball and it’s still intriguing to me. I haven’t watched the whole thing, I’m actually kind of enjoying the vacation from sports for now (for multiple reasons), but it made me think about what topics I would love to dive into if ESPN or Netflix did another series like this.
I have watched “OJ: Made in America”, and it was phenomenal. The bulk of that documentary being a very different look at the early 90’s compared to the start of the Bull’s dynasty.
OJ was worth almost 8 hours, MJ and the Bulls were worth about 10 hours – so what else would intrigue me enough to drop what I’m doing and watch for 10 hours?
I’ll also say that I think the coronavirus is an obvious answer, but no one knows how everything will play out…
This is the obvious answer, but it’s also one that has to run it’s course before it can happen. With Tiger back competing at a high level again, no one knows when he will call it quits, plus golf is a sport you can play for a long time compared to other sports. However, his story is a long one that has had many winding roads that lead to where we are right now. From the 1997 Masters to the 2019 Masters – a lot happened.
Highlighted Episode: “The Crash”
I remember this most for interrupting the Iron Bowl, but on CBS on November 27, 2009 Tim Brando broke in to show the helicopter view of the crash. I was sitting in the press box at Jordan-Hare stadium when it happened. It was so bizarre.
But this crash helped put his private life on display after an article had come out accusing him of having an affair and the crash made it more obvious that something was wrong. Tiger held a press conference saying he had gone to therapy, he ended up divorcing his wife and took a break from golf. His performance started to suffer and it looked like we had seen the end of an incredible career from the greatest golfer ever.
I would expect a really good documentary to be able to really dive into what happened with all of his infidelities and how it truly affected him.
This is one that can’t be made yet, but I feel like can be made about 10-years from now. There is a bubble that is growing rapidly and about to pop between the NCAA and the Power 5 conferences – the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. Football is king, and these five conferences in football basically control the rest of the college sports landscape. If those five conferences ever did decide to band together, they could cripple the NCAA.
The NCAA still has the rest of Division 1 (Group of 5 conferences & FCS), Division 2 and Division 3 to worry about, so I don’t think they would disappear. But it would be a very different world if the Power Five conferences went fully autonomous and away from the NCAA.
Certain areas to highlight could be the BCS, the college football playoff (and perhaps future changes to it), the rise of a small number of programs that have controlled everything (Nick Saban and Alabama, Dabo Swinney and Clemson, etc.), and…
Highlighted Episode: “O’Bannon v. NCAA”
I thought about putting the Ed O’Bannon trial on here as it’s own thing, but I don’t know that you could squeeze 10 hours out of that. However, it would definitely be it’s own episode in this series. For those that don’t know, O’Bannon v. NCAA is basically what killed the NCAA Football game and has ultimately led to players being allowed to use their likeness now for profit.
O’Bannon filed the lawsuit saying the the NCAA was using the images of it’s former student athletes for commercial purposes and that after graduation, players should entitled to financial compensation for the NCAA’s commercial use of their image. The NCAA argued that paying the players would be a violation of it’s concept of amateurism. What made O’Bannon file this suit was actually the NCAA Basketball game, not the football version. He was on the 1995 national championship team from UCLA and the game featured that team with an unnamed player who played his position (power forward), and had his same height, weight, bald head, skin tone, left-handed shot and was #31 like him.
Eventually other basketball legends like Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell joined the suit. One interesting player that joined from the football side was former Alabama WR Tyrone Prothro, who was one of the biggest names in sports in 2005 thanks to his insane catch against Southern Miss that won him the ESPY for “Best Play” and for his gruesome career ending injury against Florida a few weeks later. He gave testimony about how his catch against Southern Miss has continued to be used to this day in promotional material for not only the NCAA but was also in Pontiac car commercials at the time (they sponsored the “Game Changing Performance” on ESPN each week). He also talked about having to buy the rights to his own catch from Alabama to include in a book he was writing.
“Belichick & Brady”
Maybe the only other team in all of professional sports that can be looked at as being as dominant as the 90’s Bulls could be the Patriots over the last 20 years. While they spread their six titles out over 18 years instead of 8, the core of that team was the same – Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
You could start with their beginnings – Belichick as a coach with a losing record with the Browns, Brady with a fair career at Michigan, but then being a sixth round draft pick. Little did we know that Brady would put himself on the level with Michael Jordan (who we already knew was really good coming out of college) and Belichick would put himself maybe even higher than Phil Jackson (who at least had a long playing career, Belichick didn’t even play football in college).
It would also be fascinating to see why/how it ended for Brady in New England. There would be plenty of Robert Kraft in the story as well, despite it mostly being about the coach and QB. Deflategate, spygate, the tuck rule and plenty of other issues throughout their successful run.
We can’t forget the defenses that have been apart of these championship teams. Players like Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Dont’a Hightower. Of course Adam Vinateri would be a part of it (and Stephen Gostkowski to an extent). Even Drew Bledsoe, and how his injury led to the rise of Brady.
Highlighted Episode: “Gronk”
While Scottie Pippen was a great secondary star to Jordan, Brady helped make stars of players like Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and other receivers who we never would have thought about being great. But if Dennis Rodman was a character to follow and be amazed at how crazy he was in The Last Dance – what would Gronk be like in comparison? Never mind the addition of the Aaron Hernandez story too.
The Gronk episode could have many different angles to it. He is one of the best tight ends in the game, completely uncoverable. He brought back the spike to the touchdown celebration. He’s been a media mainstay – whether it’s appearing as himself in movies and TV, or appearing in some wacky news story. He’s made his mark in wrestling just like Rodman did. He’s dating a model. Gronk is about as close as you can get to finding a Rodman counterpart in football.
He’s also pulled a Jordan-style retirement by leaving and coming back as he gets set to play alongside Brady at Tampa.
If you thought the Rodman parts of The Last Dance were crazy, I can’t even imagine what a full look into Mike Tyson’s life would be like. While I also feel like you could do this with Ali and Mayweather, I feel like Tyson is the better overall story (and would make for the best TV ratings). Ali is too old to have good footage of a lot of stuff and Mayweather is recent enough that we have seen a lot of his antics. Plus heavyweights are just more attractive to the general public. I think you could show how Ali paved the way for Tyson, and how Tyson paved the way for Mayweather (and more current heavyweight fighters like Klitschko/Wilder/Fury/Joshua)
Tyson was the youngest boxer to ever win a heavyweight title at 20 years old. He was the first boxer to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles and is the only heavyweight to successfully unify them. Watching Tyson fight in his prime is like watching a master class and watching a beautiful dance in the ring, the likes of which we haven’t seen since.
Plus plenty of Don King which would make for entertaining television.
Highlighted Episode: “Another 90 Second Annihilation”
As for what the best episode would be, there are a few to choose from. His prison time could be one, biting the ear off Holyfield is an easy choice, but I think the upset loss to Buster Douglas in Tokyo is the best choice.
The name of the episode is from Jim Lampley asking Larry Merchant ringside “Larry, what are we about to see – another 90-second annihilation of an ill-prepared opponent?” to which Merchant responded “You have to remember that just nobody believes anybody can compete with Mike Tyson. In fact, Ed Schuyler of the Associated Press when he arrived in Tokyo was asked by a customs official what he was doing here. He said he was here to cover the Tyson-Douglas fight. ‘How long do you expect to work?’ the customs man asked. ‘Oh about 90 seconds.'”
It’s widely considered one of, if not THE greatest upset in sports history, which only adds to the tale of Iron Mike Tyson.
Honorable Mention Ideas
“The Mannings” – I feel like you could get plenty out of Peyton and Eli Manning (along with their dad) and their time in the league, but I almost feel like they could be part of the Patriot’s series, seeing as how Peyton was Brady’s biggest competition at times with their series being epic and Eli’s main accomplishment was keeping the Patriots from winning two different times, once when they were undefeated.
“The Earnhardts” – Not to sound like a cheesy sitcom, there are a million better names you could call this. However, now that Dale Jr. is retired, I think you could make a great documentary on the whole family. I know “3” was done already by ESPN, but that was a scripted move about Sr.’s life and was also not well received due to the historical inaccuracies and the script wasn’t approved by Teresa Earnhardt. I think there is enough that you could do a 10-part documentary but I don’t know that people would be as receptive to a 10-hour long NASCAR documentary. There is plenty to talk about from Sr.’s dominance, Jr. coming on the scene, Sr. dying at Daytona, the death of DEI, Jr.’s concussions, and then some focus on and Teresa (Sr.’s wife) and their daughter Kelley (who helps run Jr.’s racing team).
“The Death of Grantland” – You probably couldn’t get 10 hours out of this, but it would mostly be an overall larger picture on the death of sports journalism as we knew it. Grantland was the site started by Bill Simmons that eventually was killed off by ESPN. There is a lot to the Bill Simmons story, but it would also be a very anti-ESPN piece too. Him leaving has greatly hurt their NBA product, their online product, and he was responsible for 30 for 30’s. I think you could maybe tie Simmons in with ESPN’s declining ratings and make something big, but of course The Last Dance and OJ: Made in America were made by ESPN, so I don’t think they would talk about their own demise.
“America’s Team” – During the time of The Last Dance, the Dallas Cowboys were on a similar roll with Troy Aikman at the helm. They won in 1992, 93, 95 but I feel like that’s not enough for 10-hours. Jerry Jones had just purchased and built the team up, so there would be plenty to talk about with him. Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer are looked at as two legendary coaches and of course plenty of other players to highlight like Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, etc.
“The Chase” – Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made baseball cool for a younger generation (like me) and their chase of the home run record was thrilling to watch. Add in some Ken Griffey Jr. and you have a decent documentary series between the chase itself, highlighting those players and of course the fallout from the steroid era of baseball.