The success of the Emmy-winning 2020 ESPN documentary series The Last Dance, featuring Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls, has other streaming providers looking for their share of the pie. Reportedly, a similar series featuring Hall of Famer Magic Johnson is a hot commodity.
Johnson’s story is well-documented. But it’s never been in one place before, so there is likely an audience for the NBA star-turned-business mogul’s tale.
Aired during the pandemic, The Last Dance became ESPN’s most-watched documentary series ever, per Deadline. Those record ratings no doubt got a boost from the absence of live-sports content. But there are other iconic stars with compelling stories to tell.
Magic Johnson rose to fame like a rocket but hung in the sky for more than a decade
Magic Johnson initially burst onto the scene as a grinning 6-foot-9 point guard, leading Michigan State to the 1979 NCAA championship. His size was unprecedented at the point guard position. Beyond that, the championship game matchup against Larry Bird and a previously unbeaten Indiana State team is still the highest-ranked college basketball game in television history.
The Magic-Bird rivalry eventually led to three NBA Finals battles between the teams. Bird and the Boston Celtics won in 1984, while Magic’s Los Angeles Lakers downed the Celtics for titles in 1985 and 1987.
Magic was still in his prime heading into the 1991–92 season. Johnson had led the Lakers back to the NBA Finals the previous season, where they lost to Michael Jordan’s Bulls. The three-time NBA MVP was on a run of nine consecutive All-NBA First Team selections. Johnson was also the NBA’s all-time assists leader, having passed Oscar Robertson in April 1991.
In an instant, it was over. On Nov. 7, 1991, Johnson shook the world (not just the sports world) with the announcement he had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He immediately retired.
A storybook return quickly followed for the 1992 All-Star Game, where he shook off months of rust to win MVP honors. Johnson then played for the iconic Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. A return for the 1992-93 season ended when players, including Dream Team member Karl Malone, expressed concerns, per The Los Angeles Times.
Magic did eventually return to play at the end of the 1995–96 season. That followed a short-lived stint as Lakers’ coach to close out 1993–94.
Peacock making a run at Magic Johnson’s story
According to Lucas Shaw of Bloomberg, a documentary series from Submarine Entertainment is on the market. Touted as Magic’s form of Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance, the Magic Johnson project has considerable interest.
Peacock, the streaming service launched by Comcast in July 2020, reportedly bid $25 million for the rights to Johnson’s documentary. Peacock has a swath of sports programming on its service. Besides the current Tokyo Olympics, Peacock streams soccer’s English Premier League and IndyCar racing. The 2021 NFL season, culminating with Super Bowl LVI, is earmarked for Peacock, as well.
Johnson’s story as a basketball player alone makes a terrific story. Throw in the health setback he’s lived with for nearly 30 years, and it’s more compelling. Throw his $600 million net worth into the mix with the business empire he’s built, and you have a trifecta of absorbing material.
The allure of Michael Jordan’s ‘The Last Dance’
Michael Jordan is an iconic name in sports and pop culture. Nearly two decades after his last NBA game, the public still hungers for more stories about His Airness. In 1993, Jordan’s Bulls were the first team in 27 years to win at least three straight championships. In 1998, they completed a second three-peat.
That season marked the end of Jordan’s run with the Bulls. A lockout delayed the 1998–99 season, and Chicago management decided to break up the band. Jordan retired again (he left the NBA for 18 months in 1993-95).
NBA Entertainment shot the footage of Jordan’s final season. The league agreed to give Jordan the final decision on the use of the footage. And thus, The Last Dance was eventually born.
The pandemic provided an opportunity for ESPN to serve a sports-starved public that was locked inside. It was a perfect confluence of events for the series: an icon, a compelling story of the end of a dynasty, and a lockdown.
Michael Jordan scored big with The Last Dance. Now Magic Johnson is poised to go where at least one man has gone before.