Ratto: The Jordan Rules rules Sunday

‘The Last Dance’ is the entertainment we want, not the history we need

Ray Ratto
April 20, 2020 - 8:19 am
Ratto: The Jordan Rules rules Sunday

Anne Ryan, USA TODAY, USA TODAY via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The coronavirus has paralyzed us all, but it also gave five consecutive Sundays to Michael Jordan to write the only acceptable history of the best version of the Chicago Bulls. As vanity projects go, this is about as seamless as it gets.

There are still eight more installments over four more weekends, and people who have seen the entire package say with unanimity that these first two were the least impressive of them all, but can all agree on the following things:

*Jerry Krause will be portrayed as a one-dimensional villain, and as he cannot defend himself (he died three years ago), everyone will find that to be acceptable.

*Scottie Pippen will be historically recast as weak and selfish.

*Jordan's transition from wide-eyed rookie to steely-eyed killer will be glossed over and both versions will be hailed as the best a man can be.

*Jordan's bottomless scotch tumbler will be the most valuable prop.

Oh, and one other thing. LeBron James' 14-part documentary on LeBron James in 2024 will have better production values but will serve the same master — the person whose name is writ largest.

Therein lies the undercut there are more of these coming, and they will become the nouveaux weaponry in the legacy wars. Once you get past the fact that the history we are being given is not really the 1998 Bulls but the state of basketball as it existed two decades ago, this works fine. But if you're trying to get the real story of that team, what you're going to get is a Jordan hagiography because that is the story everyone wants, true in every detail or not.

The Jordan doc is still only 20 percent revealed and hasn't really covered Dennis Rodman or Phil Jackson or any of the other ephemera that revealed itself during the 1997-98 Bulls season, but we know the common thread of Jordan Against The Old World.

Krause, for his part, becomes a precursor for things that people loathe the modern game for, like load management and tanking. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf gets to talk about how he tried to talk Pippen out of a bad contract while offering him that very contract. Jordan himself shows a new generation what basketball was like before 30-footers and zone defenses. Rod Thorn explains how the game used to be big-man centric and is now big-man phobic.

But everyone lands in the same place at the end, with Jordan's indomitable will in the face of a sea of bumblers with only his magic drink as the only real heroes. Steve Kerr is slightly miscast, as he probably should have been a series narrator like Liev Schrieber, but the series wasn't looking for an objective view. It was looking for Jordan because ESPN is about heroes and story preservation. And so, by extension, is the audience. America is getting what it wanted in entertainment, more than it is getting necessarily what it needs in history.

Ultimately, we are all getting to drink with Mike, which is its own marketing campaign.

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