The hours of raw footage, gamefilm, interviews cut up and packaged to air during the second full sports-free month was full of incredible plays, music and behind the scenes looks at the Bulls’ dynasty. The story is valuable and inspiring alone, but the wisdom that is captured and offered throughout the ten-episode series is perhaps the most underrated element of the series.
While the lessons from The Last Dance are countless, the most important however being the most intrinsic and genuine:
Do What You Love (And love what you do) – It’s common for many in the sports broadcasting world to say that they enjoy going to work everyday. The opportunity to work in a field that’s an intersection of two competitive, fast-paced industries is incredibly difficult to attain. As outlined in The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman shared a genuine respect and love for the game of basketball. While they found different styles in navigating through the competitive, humbling and challenging career path, the trio was united in sharing genuine passion for their work.
Embracing Change & Ability To Adapt – These skills are demonstrated throughout the series, but most consistently utilized by Phil Jackson. The sports media world is ever changing. In the wake of the global pandemic, many difficult decisions had to be made and changes had to be implemented. The opportunities that arise in the wake of change are oftentimes, the most important. The ability to adapt in times of uncertainty is valuable in broadcasting; the greater the risk the greater the reward. The Last Dance brilliantly highlights the high pressure moments in which Phil Jackson shines bright.
Don’t Let Ego Eclipse Talent & Hardwork – Jerry Krause was seen as one of the ‘villains’ of this series because of his quest for credit and control. The moments where Scottie Pippen’s ego prevails: most notably, the contract negotiations and the Tony Kukoc buzzer beater. The sports media world is familiar with the presence of ego and jealousy. There is a big difference between the healthy presence of these human qualities and the unhealthy overwhelming self-destructiveness. Don’t go searching for validation, applause and acclaim; that way lies madness.
Position Yourself For Success – The Phil Jackson quote that sums it up for all industries: “The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way.”
Legends Never Die – There’s tremendous value in the iconic story told by The Last Dance. The series was undoubtedly eye opening, for some audiences more than others. One of the sports broadcasting legends featured in the series, Linda Cohn provided some analysis as to why The Last Dance was able to resonate with so many.
“The Last Dance does an incredible job of taking us where we never thought we could be. Seeing and hearing the events and behind the scenes conversations of that season. We also get an up close look of Michael Jordan thanks to MJ himself. What was he thinking at the time of each game, moment and of course controversy.”
Cohn points out how the Bulls’ dynasty was being introduced to a portion of the audience, for the first time.
“Plus, the documentary gives the younger audience a chance they never thought they would have. To know Michael Jordan, to see him play and understand what made him tick and why he’s the greatest of all time.”
When discussing the role of nostalgia and whether the series effectively captured the same emotions as when she was covering the iconic championship series in 1998, Cohn said.
“The nostalgia involving me, as well as my talented ESPN SportsCenter colleagues of the past, is an added bonus while watching The Last Dance. It gives the viewer another opportunity to go back in time and really be immersed in the impact Sportscenter had especially with its coverage of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. My kids are getting a kick out of seeing their mom rock those big shoulder pads!”
The sports media plays a pivotal role in determining whether sports stories are the stuff of legends. The amount of coverage devoted to The Last Dance on sports radio will vary across most markets, however with two exceptions: Chicago and Charlotte. The markets that Michael Jordan calls home have both been strategic and deliberate in the selection of The Last Dance content.
Chicago and Charlotte radio markets saw a significant ratings shift in the wake of the docuseries airing. WGN Sports Operations Manager Dave Zaslowsky weighed in on the strategy in navigating the airing of the series.
WGN has been a hallmark of the sports media scene in Chicago for decades, the WGN Sports branded mic shields proudly displayed throughout the doc’s various interviews with iconic Bulls’ players. The contribution of The Last Dance struck a chord across the spectrum in Chicago. Zaslowsky weighed in on the way Chicago sports radio fans and listeners alike received The Last Dance.
“I feel across the board fans/listeners of Chicago sports loved this doc. The run that the 90’s Bulls had has been a long time and was nice to relive that. Also, some things were learned for the first time. Sports talk radio was flooded with calls for days after each episode, granted there are no sports going on, but it still would have dominated sports talk radio.”
When asked which lesson from The Last Dance he felt was the most valuable to the sports media world, Zaslowsky replied:
“I think the lesson for the sports media world is that back in TLD days the media was witnessing something that today’s media will never have the pleasure of covering. There will never be a player, players or a team like the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s. We are fortunate to have the job we have, don’t let the special moments pass by without enjoying them for a moment.
The Charlotte Hornets’ flagship station, WFNZ saw a significant ratings boost, as well. WFNZ’s ratings are double from last month with the station ranked third in the demographic. Assistant Program Director Mark Seidel shared the process behind covering The Last Dance, given Jordan’s personal and professional investments across his homestate. When asked what WFNZ’s approach was to correctly, respectfully and accurately covering the series.
“I think the series resonated with so many people because A) it’s Michael Jordan and B) it was sports in this sports-free world. Sure, we all knew the final outcome, but a lot of people didn’t know the story of getting to the final outcome.”
The dichotomy of Michael Jordan as a North Carolinian, UNC legend, NBA great and Charlotte Hornets’ owner, seamlessly and organically laid the groundwork to encompass a wide range of topics, Seidel explained.
“So being in the heart of Michael Jordan-land, we had unique opportunities to cover it from a Tar Heel perspective with guests like James Worthy and Roy Williams, as well as from a current MJ perspective, owning The Hornets.”
Nostalgia is key, he said.
“I believe the sports media world learned the true value of nostalgia. People that were old enough to truly remember those Bulls teams were taken back in time to a different era in the NBA. Younger people, including myself, who weren’t lucky enough to truly enjoy and understand what we were watching at the time were given a second chance to relive it. The power of nostalgia is very real.”
Chrissy Paradis is a BNM columnist and veteran sports radio producer. She’s worked in Las Vegas, Washington DC, Raleigh and Hartford helping personalities such as Rob Dibble, Tim Brando, Steve Cofield, Adam Gold and Joe Ovies. You can contact her on Twitter @ChrissyParadis or by email at Chrissy.Paradis@gmail.com.
Jason Barrett Podcast: Rich Eisen, NFL Network
Rich Eisen reveals how he ended up partnering with Stuart Scott, the moment he knew he made the right move joining the NFL Network, and the influence standup comedy had on his broadcast career.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Does FOX Need West Coast College Football Success?
“I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”
Don’t believe them. Don’t believe those people that try to sell you on the idea that a given sport is better if a given team in said sport is good. You know, college football is better when Notre Dame is good. Maybe they tell you college basketball is better when UCLA is good. Might they say the NFL is better when the Dallas Cowboys are good? Let me tell you, whoever the they is saying those things, they are wrong. FOX isn’t living or dying on it?
I am not here to tell you college football is better when USC is good. The Trojans are ninth all-time in FBS wins with 866 victories, they claim 11 National Championships and 39 conference championships. There is zero doubt they are among the elite, blue blooded programs of the college football world. With all of that said, USC hasn’t contributed to college football’s national championship discussion in more than 15 years. But, now Southern California is back and in College Football Playoff contention.
With only Notre Dame and a PAC 12 Conference Championship left to play, 10-1 USC is in excellent position to earn the first College Football Playoff bid in school history. The Trojans would be the third west coast team in the playoffs, 2014 Oregon played in the inaugural edition and 2016 Washington was the only other PAC 12 participant. It has now been five playoffs since a PAC 12 team has been in the top four.
That brings up the obvious question, how important is it for the health of the College Football Playoff to have west coast teams involved, especially one based in Los Angeles? L.A is, of course, the second largest media market in the nation. College football is well down the list of priorities in the City of Angels but having a team in the mix might help the overall national rating.
College Football has long been criticized for becoming too regional of a sport. The results thus far do lend themselves to that belief, the only team from outside the South to win a national championship was 2014 Ohio State. The SEC has twice had two teams among the four playoff teams and two of eight championship games matched Alabama and Georgia from the SEC.
So, does the College Football Playoff need West Coast teams for long term health? FOX is one of the rights holders for PAC 12 football and the main FOX college analyst, Joel Klatt, doesn’t think it is necessary. “I don’t know if it matters this year. This is like the last two years in an eight year term for a president,” Klatt told me on my show, The Next Round, “I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”
To Klatt’s point, the College Football Playoff seems to be screeching towards that twelve team format and a bigger media rights deal. That deal will almost certainly include multiple networks, not just ESPN/ABC, and will be worth significantly more money than the current deal. So, it is not as if the lack of a presence west of the Rockies has hurt the attractiveness of the College Football Playoff to the networks.
On the other hand, the playoffs have never reached the lofty ratings they had year one. Was the 2014 edition just ratings lightning in a bottle or has the regional nature of the product hurt those ratings? The 2014 semi finals did fall on New Year’s Day which meant the games were played in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl which has proven to be the most successful schedule in terms of ratings success.
The college football lover in me couldn’t get enough of FOX’s Saturday night USC-UCLA telecast. There’s something about both teams wearing those classic home colors and playing in that historic stadium under the lights. They put on a great show, the show also would go on without them.
I want as many people as possible exposed to college football; it only makes the sport healthier. If that means more West Coast teams need to be in the playoffs, I hope they earn their way in. An expanded playoff will only make it easier. Until then, just keep telling people college football is better when your team is good
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
HBO’s ‘Shaq’ Docuseries Tells Shaquille O’Neal’s Story With Style, Personality
What ‘Shaq’ wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts.
From the very beginning of HBO’s Shaq docuseries, Shaquille O’Neal tells us how important storytelling is to him. Just recapping a sequence of events isn’t enough for the Hall of Famer. As the man puts it himself, “sometimes when you tell a story, you wanna add a little barbecue sauce.”
Director Robert Alexander (The Shop, A Man Named Scott) adds plenty of barbecue sauce to O’Neal’s life story, especially in the first two parts of the docuseries. (Shaq runs four episodes, with the opener debuting Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max. Each of the following three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday.)
Nothing less should be expected from a gigantic personality like O’Neal. This isn’t a dry documentary that simply chronicles a series of events. Alexander mixes in stock, news, and archival sports footage to add embellishment and punctuation to many stories and important points. Music, creative set design, and animation also play key roles in keeping the narrative moving and the audience engaged.
Each episode has a visual theme to it. Part 1 emulates a music video. Several comic book elements are incorporated into Part 2. Part 3 is meant to invoke a classic stage drama, a Shakespearean tragedy. Unfortunately, Part 4 is less focused in that regard, though some fun video game graphics are produced. Editors Freddie DeLaVega, Lenny Messina, and Ted Feldman deserve significant credit for making all the pieces fit together into a cohesive visual trip that gives the documentary an energy not seen in many projects like this.
Much like The Last Dance did for Michael Jordan, Shaq helps define a basketball icon for newer generations more familiar with the athletic giant from being part of TNT’s Inside the NBA panel and his many, many commercial endorsements.
The documentary begins with an adolescent O’Neal growing faster than his body and mind could handle. He wasn’t a phenom who was a superstar from the very moment he took the court, despite his obvious size advantages. And his path to major college basketball didn’t take the typical route.
Eventually, however, viewers see what those of us old enough to have watched O’Neal play at LSU remember. He looked like an adult among boys. His dunks were ferocious, raising his knees as he bent the rim to his will. And, as you might recall, young Shaq was much thinner than the diesel he became late in his professional career.
The first two episodes of Shaq chronicle O’Neal’s rise to superstardom, from college sensation at LSU to No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick by the Orlando Magic, developing into a force for whom there was no match on the court on the way to NBA championships. O’Neal was so dominant that the game had to adapt to him. Rival teams stocked their rosters with three to four big men that could each spare six fouls roughing O’Neal up and sending him to the free throw line. The NBA’s defensive rules changed to allow more double-teaming.
Parts 3 and 4 of the docuseries are less fun, as the second pair of episodes follow O’Neal’s fall from the ultimate heights of his career and difficulties in his personal life. His relationship with Kobe Bryant deteriorated and took a championship dynasty down with it. A major factor in those tensions developing was O’Neal’s reluctance to stay in shape during the offseason, continuing to put on weight, and eventually having toe surgery right before the 2002-03 season.
This is where O’Neal’s involvement and cooperation probably hurt Shaq the most. Unlike the first two episodes, when everything was going well for him, the big man doesn’t offer as much insight into his shortcomings. Particularly frustrating is his lack of accountability. At one point, O’Neal flat-out says he’s not talking about what went wrong with the Lakers.
Looking right into the camera and accepting responsibility for his role in the demise of two championship teams (later including the Miami Heat) would have been riveting. Instead, others are left to try and explain O’Neal’s actions, which feels dishonest as teammates like Rick Fox and longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti try to cover for him.
What Shaq wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts. Basketball did not come easily to him as a youth, nor did championship success in college or the NBA as he grew up. But like so many great athletes do, O’Neal channeled criticism from the media and slights from opponents including Dikembe Mutombo into major aggression on the court. (His words for the 1999-2000 NBA MVP voter who prevented him from the league’s first unanimous win are profanely hilarious.)
O’Neal makes it clear that strong figures in his life provided discipline and guidance — beginning with the military-influenced upbringing of his stepfather, then coaches who could teach him how to be a great player like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley — made him who he is. He has always been a personality and time has been kinder to some of the behavior that was once considered brash. Now he’s a worldwide brand known even to non-sports fans. Those viewers, along with diehard basketball fans, will enjoy getting to know him better in this docuseries.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Part 1 of Shaq premieres Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Each of the three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday, through Dec. 14. The docuseries will also stream on HBO Max and be available on-demand, with repeat airings on HBO networks.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.