• phil cantor/@osgphil

The Last Dance Brought Back a Flood of Memories for Those a Certain Age



Not everyone is or was a Professional Basketball fan. Not everyone was enamored with the career of Michael Jordan and not everyone was a fan of the Chicago Bulls.


However there were an awful lot of people who tuned in to watch one of the more intriguing, well produced Documentary's that I've seen in a long, long time.


The Last Dance was technically speaking a "Behind the Scenes" look at the 1998 Chicago Bulls, though if you watched it there was much, much more to the 10 episode series than just the story of that particular team.


For a lot of people--it brought back memories of their childhood and their infatuation with Jordan who if he wasn't before--likely sealed his title at the NBA's Greatest of All-Time (GOAT). Though largely because the series focused on Michael and the entire Documentary exists because he allowed the hours of "Behind the Scenes" video of the 1998 team in his possession---to be released and used.


Really though, to see a story that bounced around on a timeline ranging from 1982 to 1998 with current day interviews with many of the people who lived it was utterly fascinating. Sure, there were certain subjects glossed over and barely touched but it was a stark reminder for someone like me as to why I love the game of basketball in the first place.


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I started playing basketball in elementary school. Yes, I would spend hours, often by myself throwing up jump shots and imagining myself in every game scenario my super young brain could think of.


Game winning jumpers, free throws with no time left---whether on the playground at school or the basket I convinced my father to put up in the driveway, I almost always had a basketball in my hand and the fact I was taller than most kids my age meant of course I was destined to play.


Sure, I played Little League Baseball and Football as well, but Basketball was always my first love. As a kid, I'd watch games, read the scores in the paper and make up my own box scores from games. Because I'm---um, older...I knew who everyone was. I knew who Wilt Chamberlain was, Jerry West, Kareem and others. I was pretty well versed in the best of the NBA.


I had some success as a little league player, as an 8-year old, I played with the 10-12 year old kids and by that I mean, I actually played---either as a starter or the 1st off the bench. The endless hours of shooting in the driveway or playground paid off fast.


It wasn't as easy as a child of the 70's to follow basketball--or any other sport, as it is now. Yes, there were games on TV but they were not always live and with only the 3 big Networks plus a handful of independent TV stations, they were really hard to find.


The older I got, the more my love and appreciation for the game grew. I played through middle school and high school and I followed College and Pro Games at the beginning of the Cable Era too. At that point---my only mission in life was to play College and then NBA Basketball.


Needless to say, that didn't happen.


It wasn't that I didn't have some game---I did. I was one of the best players on my High School Freshman team and expectations were for me to grow in that role as I got bigger. The fact I grew from a 5-10 8th grader to a 6 foot 3, 9th grader helped, although it took a little while for my game to catch up with the growth spurt.


Mind you, this was the era of Magic and Bird which only grew my love of the game. I was amazed to see Bird who seemingly could hit jump shots from anywhere at any time, but I was utterly fascinated by Magic who could do anything---with a smile and laughter.


I became a huge fan of the early '80's L.A Lakers with Magic and Kareem, James Worthy and Jamaal Wilkes along with Michael Cooper, absolutely loved those teams. The non-stop frenetic fast breaks, the way they moved the ball and the way they approached the game.


As a teenager--I always imagined myself as Magic or Worthy or Cooper when I played pickup games. Even though I was taller than most of the kids my age, I was also faster and could jump higher.


I'd meet my buddy Mike Lloyd down at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs and we'd play pickup games until they shut the place down. Mike was a smaller guard and if I got the rebound, I'd kick the ball out to him and come flying down the wing. If it all played out right, he'd launch the ball in the area of the rim---and while I was at that time, not quite coordinated enough to grab and dunk it, I'd run by my defender, leaping in the air, grabbing the pass and either laying it in or landing, spinning scoring on a bunny jumper.


My basketball career took a bad turn after I severely injured my ankle in a Spring Game in High School and was never the same, but I never missed watching games on TV and following the scores in the paper. My enthusiasm for getting on the court was never the same and maybe I was a little scared because of the injury (2nd degree sprain with bone spurs--plus surgery) but my enthusiasm for playing competitively was never the same.


By the time I went to College, I started to playing again on on occasion as a Georgia Southern student--I played intramural basketball and found that I enjoyed it. That enjoyment continued into my working career---all the way up to the point my ankle went bad again and my boss suggested I consider hanging things up.


Anyway, to wrap up a long, long story---to this day, I still enjoy watching the games and I can still see a play develop on TV, watching the players cut and screen and move to spots on the floor---there is a certain flow to the game you can see if you pay attention, it's almost an art form.


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Flash forward a couple of years, October of 1988 to be exact, and I'm 6-months in to my first job after graduating College at WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia. The station was small--particularly by today's standards, I was the 7th photographer on a staff of 7.


Somehow I convinced the News Director to let me move over to Sports, fulfilling my first goal of working in Sports. For reasons I can't quite remember, my boss, Sports Director Dennis Carter decided we should go to an NBA Preseason game in Richmond--a couple of hours away, to see the Chicago Bulls play the Charlotte Hornets.


Yes, the 1988 Bulls team featuring Michael Jordan--which in most ways is the point of our exercise here.


In '88, there was no universal ability to go live, we knew we were going to shoot a story to air the next day, which was fine with me. To be honest, it was one of the first NBA games I ever saw in person. Of course it was in the early "Air Jordan" years and because it was preseason, he didn't play much. But he did play and I did get to sit on the baseline and shoot the game.


It was after the game where I was totally taken aback and what happened is really the only memorable part of the game. D.C and I went to the locker room to get interviews. Sure enough, there was Jordan, not in front of a podium, just sitting on a stool at his locker.


We asked for an interview and he graciously agreed, we talked for a good 5-minutes or so about a ton of different things. It was after the interview---when he said, "Hey, thanks guys for coming out tonight, we appreciate it" that surprised me. Shortly after that, we spoke to his Coach, Doug Collins who said the same thing.


Dennis and I both looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders, we exchanged pleasantries with them and moved on and told the story of our day with the NBA the next afternoon.


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There really isn't a huge point here I'm trying to make about "The Last Dance" other than it brought back a flood of memories. No, I was not a Chicago Bulls fan. Yes, I was awed by Jordan and what he could do both on and off the floor and while I'd read about some of the topics covered in the show, there also were a ton of things I hadn't heard---or seen before.


The Documentary was not a great discovery of journalistic reporting about topics nobody knew yet it was absolutely riveting "Must-See" TV. It was a chance for a lot of my friends and for me to revisit their child hood and remind them why they love the game.


My hats of to Jason Hehir and his production crew for making 10 hours of storytelling so compelling and fun during a time where we don't have Live Sports to keep us entertained.


And again, more respect to Michael Jordan for being open about his adventures and his memories of a time most will never forget and some call the greatest era of "Modern Day" NBA Basketball, the 1990's.


Amazingly we are talking about a time, 20-plus years ago, but it still remains fresh in some of our minds with or without the documentary, even today. And for that I, and I hope you should be eternally grateful.


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