Ken Burns evidently doesn’t need to see ESPN’s “The Last Dance” to be a critic of it.
Burns’ main issue with the Michael Jordan/late ’90s Bulls 10-part documentary is that Jordan’s production company, Jump 23, was a partner in the production. There’s at least the perception of a conflict of interest and the idea that parts of Jordan’s story were suppressed.
‘LAST DANCE’: TV schedule for Bulls documentary
“If you are there influencing the very fact of it getting made it means that certain aspects that you don’t necessarily want in aren’t going to be in, period,” Burns, who claims not to have watched the first four episodes, said, per The Wall Street Journal. “And that’s not the way you do good journalism … and it’s certainly not the way you do good history, my business.” Burns said he would never agree to such an arrangement.
Jordan is the focal point of “The Last Dance,” which takes viewers inside his last season with the Bulls, 1997-98, and the end of Chicago’s dynasty as it completed a second NBA Finals three-peat. Interviews with Jordan have been used to advance the story and serve as a de facto authorized Jordan biography.
Executive producer Mike Tollin told Deadline in mid- April that Jordan saw all 10 episodes prior to their airing. He also defended how Jordan was presented.
“One of the things for us was credibility. This isn’t investigative journalism. [Director] Jason [Hehin is] a filmmaker and like his, my orientation is to tell great stories. But in order to tell a great story you have to be credible and people have to believe they’re getting the truth and you’re not pulling punches,” Tollin said. “There were some areas where we had to dig into the conspiracy theories.”
The biggest conspiracy theories revolve around Jordan’s first retirement in 1993 and whether it was related to his gambling; and the murder that year of Jordan’s father, James, and whether Jordan’s gambling played a role in it.
Burns’ best-known works are “The Civil War,” “Ken Burns’ Baseball” and “Jazz.”