'Last Dance' Director Says Documentary's Success 'Unlike Anything We Could Have Expected'

Lynda Lopez
May 04, 2020 - 7:19 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — A new documentary chronicling Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ quest to win a sixth NBA title in eight years is filling the void for sports fan during the coronavirus shutdown. 

The documentary, “The Last Dance,” has become ESPN’s highest rated documentary ever and its first two episodes drew more than 6 million viewers. 

Director Jason Hehir tells WCBS 880’s Lynda Lopez that he did not think the docuseries would be so resonant at the current moment. 

“I think it was impossible to predict what the response would be given the circumstances,” he said. “My team and I've been sitting in a cave, basically, for the last two years really editing this thing in private and we had no idea. You watch a thing literally hundreds of times, it's tough to gauge how people are going to react. But I think that it's something especially now that’s safe and warm and nostalgic and fun and I think that's what people are looking for an escape.”

Hehir was attracted to the subject as he grew up watching Jordan rise to fame in the NBA.

“His rise to power in the NBA paralleled my formative years and that goes for on the court, off the court, musically, pop culturally – it was fun to play in that pool for a while and craft these episodes back in that era,” Hehir explains. 

He notes that it was a learning experience for him to see what was happening behind the scenes of what he saw growing up. 

The director says he saw them as underdogs – which seems ridiculous, given than the Bulls dominated pop culture for a decade – but that the team was made up of “unlikely heroes.”

“These were unlikely heroes right down to Michael being cut by his varsity coaches sophomore year – it's one thing not to make it your freshman year to varsity, to not make it your sophomore year is really rare for a player of any caliber,” he explains. 

The documentary also touches on the team’s passion. Particularly Dennis Rodman, who would study basketball trajectory in his free time to truly learn the in and outs of basketball. 

“It’s no small coincidence that all of these guys, all of these greats... they’re the first ones in the gym the last ones out,” Hehir said. 

The director says that he thinks the series resonated so well because they were able to tell the entire team’s story. 

“Every story we wanted to tell, we were able to tell and I had the person telling it that I wanted telling it, so there wasn’t like that white whale out there that I still say ‘I wish we could have gotten that person,’” Hehir said. 

He also doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics, including Jordan discussing his gambling problem. 

“You know we agreed with all the partners that this is something we had to address we have to address you know the bright stuff and the dark side of a lot of Michael's life and a lot of the Bulls’ lives,” Hehir said. 

He notes that a good, responsible documentary cannot leave out the difficult topics. 

The series even was able to dedicate an episode to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in California this past January.

Hehir said it was important for him to include the dedication to show support for his widow, Vanessa. 

“It was communicated to me that that that she loves seeing Kobe with Michael and especially after Michael’s speech at the memorial service, it became so much more poignant to hear Kobe offer the same words that, ‘this guy is like my Big Brother’ and then for Michael to end his speech by saying, ‘rest in peace, little brother,’ it really brought it full circle,” he said.