Jason Hehir can finally take a breath.
“This is the first true day I’ve had off in 2020.”
‘The Last Dance’ director worked tirelessly to finish ESPN’s 10-part documentary, chronicling Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls, months ahead of schedule in the middle of a pandemic.
“It was tough because we’re going from a state of the art, fantastic facility with all the accouterments you could ask for to finish a movie of this magnitude to our own homes. This laptop that I’m talking to you own right now, I edited the Steve Kerr story on this and the final few minutes of the final episode. This laptop is not meant to perform that kind of a task.”
Hehir’s hard work paid off. According to Neilsen, live viewership for each episode ranged between 4.9 and 6.3 million people.
But not everyone was a fan. Scottie Pippen is rumored to be unhappy about his portrayal.
“I think it was fair. If people have a problem with that portrayal then I’m the guy that they should have the problem with,” Hehir explained. “We went through great lengths early in the series to tell his story. His episode is Episode II and it’s almost entirely about him. I head people say, ‘That was a dumb thing for him to do to sign that deal.’ I wanted to show people why he signed that deal. He had knocks on him that he was soft throughout his career. I wanted to show people that by Episode X that no, he was as tough as they come. Chip Schaefer says that there are a lot of players that would have never played through the pain that he played through. They wouldn’t have won Game 6 gritting it out and being a decoy in that game. I thought it was heroic the way that he responded to that during Game 6. The Toni Kukoc incident in ’94, we had to tell that story because this is a doc about the Bulls dynasty. We need to cover what happened when Michael left for 18 months. But right after that, you have his entire team defending Scottie and saying that was out of character for him to do that. They loved him as a teammate. Really was good cop, bad cop with he and Michael. Those teammates adored him. Scottie chose in our interview to say that he would do the same thing over again. I don’t think he did himself any favors there, but he certainly has the support of his teammates. Then, we show you right after that, his dunk over Ewing. He came right back, bounced right back from that and played well. I’ve heard the criticism. People have the right to their opinion, but I feel like we did all we could to show you the full scope of who Scottie was and why he made the decisions he made.”
Critics believe Jordan likely shaped some of the narratives using his stature to dictate the final cut.
“I didn’t deal with him on that basis. I think he was watching cuts but he wasn’t actively telling us what to do. He wasn’t seeing early rough cuts and steering the story in any direction. He was seeing things that were almost ready for air more out of curiosity than anything else. There were four partners in this operation: the NBA, the Jordan Brand, Netflix and ESPN. When I say Jordan Brand, there are really two or three people who are his close advisors that are helping us with this thing. But, the notes that they had were more aesthetic – music notes, camera angles – things like that, that I did not expect to be getting notes on. That’s where there notes were. The story stuff was really coming from ESPN and Netflix. ESPN, they’re just coming off the O.J. doc which won the Oscar, so they’re not going to risk their reputation and their integrity and neither I am. I wouldn’t get involved in something where someone was going to be driving this and there’s going to be a ‘puff piece’ or propaganda or other things that I’ve heard. It’s ridiculous, but people are going to believe what they want to believe.”
Almost no one believed America would be stuck without sports for weeks on end, but Michael Jordan and the Bulls helped get the country through it.
Sundays won’t be the same without them.
Listen to Hehir’s full interview with Jarrett Payton in the video player at the top of the article