NBA

‘Baseball’ Documentarian Ken Burns Has a Big Problem With ‘The Last Dance’

The Last Dance has been a huge hit for ESPN. The 10-part docuseries that follows the career of Michael Jordan and the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls has brought in a record number of viewers through six episodes and still has four episodes to go. For the most part, The Last Dance has enjoyed rave reviews. However, there are some out there who have criticized it. For one, Toni Kukoc doesn’t really seem to be enjoying it. You can add award-winning documentarian Ken Burns to that list as well.

Ken Burns is responsible for some of the greatest documentaries in history, including ‘Baseball’

Ken Burns began making films when he was just 17 years old in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has been responsible for some of the best and most-watched documentaries in history.

Burns’ docuseries, The Civil War, averaged more than 14 million viewers per night during its original five-night run in 1990, making it the most-watched program in the network’s history. It won more than 40 film and television awards, including two Emmys, two Grammys, and the Peabody Award.

In the world of sports, Ken Burns is best known for his 1994 documentary, Baseball. First released in 1994, the nine-part series recounted the evolution of America’s pastime as each “inning” dealt with a particular era. It began with baseball’s origins in the 19th century and went all the way up to 1990. In addition to discussing the game itself, Baseball also looked at the topics of race, labor relations, and how the game impacted American culture as a whole. It overtook Civil War as the most-watched program in public television history and also won several awards, including the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series.

Ken Burns added The Tenth Inning to the series in 2010, which begins with the 1994 MLB strike and goes through the 2009 campaign. There has been talk of doing an 11th episode but nothing has been confirmed.

Michael Jordan had a lot of control over ‘The Last Dance’

Seeing as how The Last Dance covers the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls, it obviously took a long time for the docuseries to hit the airwaves, mainly due to the fact that Michael Jordan refused to let the footage see the light of the day. He had made an agreement with Adam Silver, who back then was the head of NBA Entertainment, to have total control over the more than 500 hours of footage shot that season and it sat for years in a warehouse in New Jersey.

Michael Jordan finally agreed to let the documentary be made in 2016 but when Jason Hehir came on board to direct, MJ demanded that he be given the final say on any interview that came before him, which everyone saw play out in the episode dealing with Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons walking off the court in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. But there’s more.

In addition to ESPN and Netflix, who are the two main producers of The Last Dance, Michael Jordan’s production company was also involved and Ken Burns has a big problem with that.

Ken Burns has a big problem with Michael Jordan’s production company being involved with ‘The Last Dance’

Ken Burns
Ken Burns | Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Ken Burns recently spoke with “The Wall Street Journal” and says that while he still hasn’t watched The Last Dance, he’s aware that Michael Jordan’s production company, Jump 23, was involved with the film and he has a big problem with the main subject having that much influence on a project, something he says he would “never, never, never, never” agree to on a film he was making.

“I find it the opposite direction of where we need to be going.

“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. And that’s not the way you do good journalism … and it’s certainly not the way you do good history, my business.”

Ken Burns discussing how much influence Michael Jordan has on “The Last Dance”

It must be noted that the director of The Last Dance, Jason Hehir, has said that Michael Jordan hasn’t asked for anything to be cut from the film. There have obviously been situations through the first six episodes in which Jordan doesn’t come off looking all that great in certain situations. But a guy like Ken Burns is certainly entitled to his opinion, especially when it comes to documentary filmmaking.

Episodes seven and eight of The Last Dance premiere on ESPN next Sunday.