With live sports on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Last Dance stepped in to fill the ball-shaped hole in America's heart on ESPN this spring. Now the docuseries following Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' final championship season is poised for a second life, having arrived on Netflix in America (it was a Netflix original in much of the rest of the world). And since sports are still mostly on hold, sports documentaries are still necessary to satisfy that sports craving. The Last Dance is only the beginning.
We've put together this list, which features documentaries that directly expand on stories that were part of The Last Dance, like Jordan Rides the Bus and Rodman: For Better or Worse; profiles of Michael Jordan-esque sports figures, like Lance and Free Solo; and great basketball documentaries like Magic and Bird and Once Brothers, among others.
These documentaries will almost make up for no sports. Almost, but not quite. Oh well.
Watch it on: HBO
This documentary follows Cheryl Miller, the Michael Jordan of women's basketball, who led the USC Trojans to back-to-back NCAA championships in 1983 and 1984 and influenced not only women's basketball but also the development of the point-forward position that NBA stars like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo play. In women's basketball, there's BC and AC (Before and After Cheryl), and this doc finally gives her her due. After all, her brother Reggie got one (see below), and he wasn't as good as Cheryl.
ESPN goes from one GOAT to another GOAT* with Lance, a four-hour profile of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong that serves as a follow-up to the immensely popular The Last Dance. But unlike The Last Dance, the show's centerpiece doesn't have a finger in the production, giving Lance the slight edge in authenticity rather than the mostly fawning profile of Jordan. And it comes down a lot harder. Armstrong participates willingly and gives director Marina Zenovich access to his life and thoughts, answering questions openly about why he chose to dope en route to winning multiple Tours de France, and responding to former teammates' claims of his irascible and arrogant behavior (which is the best part of what I saw). But it also profiles a young man who grew up with a stern stepfather and a competitor who used his inhuman drive to beat stage-4 cancer that gave him zero chance to survive. Like The Last Dance, it's really about the sacrifice of what it takes to be great — are you an a--hole because you're great, or are you great because you're an a--hole? — but unlike The Last Dance, it's a little more even-handed. (*He cheated.) -Tim Surette
Michael Jordan is the star of The Last Dance, with Dennis Rodman as one of the main supporting characters. But the Worm's life story is truly stranger than fiction, and the most eccentric defensive specialist in sports history got his own much-deserved 30 for 30 last year with Rodman: For Better or Worse. The doc covers everything from his impoverished upbringing in Dallas, to his symbolic suicide in the parking lot of the Detroit Pistons' arena and rebirth as the pierced, tattooed, hair-dyed weirdo who dated Madonna and married Carmen Electra, to his unfathomably bizarre post-NBA career as America's unofficial ambassador to North Korea.
A smaller part of The Last Dance gets explored in depth in this 2010 30 for 30 episode about Michael Jordan's stint playing for the Birmingham Barons minor league baseball team in 1994. After Jordan's father was murdered and he retired from basketball for the first time in 1993, he went and played Double-A ball for a season to escape from the pressure of being Michael Jordan. Director Ron Shelton helms this proto-Last Dance, which features a highly entertaining interview with the Alabama real estate agent who helped MJ find a place to live.
Indiana Pacer great Reggie Miller was one of Jordan's greatest foes, as seen in Episode 9 of The Last Dance. In fact, Miller was a thorn in the side of the entire Eastern Conference, especially the New York Knicks. This particular 30 for 30 is built around the greatest 8.9 seconds of Miller's career, when the Pacers were down 105-99 against the Knicks in the 1995 playoffs and Miller scored 8 points in rapid succession to win the game in the final seconds. Even though he never won a championship, Miller was one of the greatest shooters, clutch players, and trash talkers in NBA history.
The villain of The Last Dance is Isaiah Thomas, the infamous point guard who led the Detroit Pistons teams that whupped the Bulls in the late '80s and early '90s. Those Pistons are the subject of -- yup, another one -- this 30 for 30, and they are unrepentant about the reign of terror of brutally physical play and unsportsmanlike conduct they imposed on the NBA during their time at the top. Unless you're from the Motor City, you won't come away from this doc liking the Pistons any better, but you might see where they're coming from (respect is too strong of a word). (Author's note: I am a Knicks fan and hate Isaiah Thomas more than I hate anyone I know personally. The Last Dance story of Jordan and the other Olympians keeping Thomas off the Dream Team brought me more joy than anything else I've watched whole quarantine.)
Watch it on: Hulu
A major part of Michael Jordan's legacy are his Nike sneakers, and no shoe is more important to sneaker culture than the Air Jordan 1, which is the subject of this unexpectedly riveting documentary. At the time, NBA players were banned from wearing colorful shoes on the court, so every time Jordan laced up his black-and-red beauties (technically Air Ships, not Air Jordans), he was fined by the league, which created a firestorm of controversy that drove sales through the roof. This is an entertaining documentary for any sports fan, even if you don't know a "Bred" from a "Royal."
Watch it on: HBO
In the '80s, before Michael Jordan was an NBA champion, he wanted to be Larry Bird and/or Magic Johnson. The Celtic and the Laker owned the decade, with one or the other winning eight of the ten championships and playing in every single one (though they only played each other three times, in '84, '85, and '87; the Lakers prevailed 2-1). This 2010 documentary covers their rivalry, which started when Magic's Michigan State Spartans beat Bird's Indiana State Sycamores in the NCAA final in 1979, and is credited with saving the NBA, which was on the ropes financially when they entered it.
Watch in on: Netflix
Vince Carter joined the NBA as a member of the Toronto Raptors in 1998, the same summer Michael Jordan retired for the second time, and the timing of his entry, the fact that he had also played shooting guard at North Carolina, and his unbelievable dunking ability made him one of the most credible "next Michael Jordans" to ever play. This documentary is about Carter's impact on basketball in Canada, putting Toronto on the map as a basketball city. Vince Carter is still an active NBA player today, the oldest player in the league. Pretty amazing.
Watch it on: Hulu, Disney+
This is a little bit of an outside-the-box pick, especially since every other doc on this list is about basketball, but Alex Honnold is the Michael Jordan of rock climbing, so I think it fits. Like MJ, Honnold has achieved a level of greatness in his sport that mere mortals can't even dream of; also like MJ, his greatness makes him kind of an a--hole. Unlike MJ, he does it all alone. There's no team (and no ropes), just the man and the rock. Like The Last Dance, this Oscar-winning documentary will make you think about the price of greatness.
A fascinating part of The Last Dance was watching the Dream Team win an Olympic gold medal over Toni Kukoc and Croatia, where the tough players from the war-torn former Yugoslavia earned the Dream Team's respect. Basketball and the Yugoslav Wars are the subject of the 30 for 30 Once Brothers. Serbian Vlade Divac and Croatian Drazen Petrovic where close friends and teammates on the national team from 1986 to 1990, but being on different sides of the war drove them apart. Petrovic died in a car accident in 1993, and the documentary focuses on Divac's regret that he wasn't able to reconcile with his friend. It's really a documentary about how war affects individuals wrapped in a basketball story.
Shaquille O'Neal, arguably the best player of the Jordan era not prominently featured in The Last Dance, is the focus of this 30 for 30 about his partnership with Penny Hardaway on the Orlando Magic team of the mid-'90s that beat the Bulls on their way to the Finals in 1995 (where they lost to the Houston Rockets, who were led by Hakeem Olajuwon, the other arguable best player not prominently featured in The Last Dance). Shaq wouldn't win a championship until he teamed up with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles while MJ was a shell of himself with the Washington Wizards, but this documentary imagines what could have been if the Magic had stayed together.
There aren't many in-depth sports docuseries like The Last Dance. In fact, there's really only one, and that's O.J.: Made in America, which actually less directly about sports and more about race in America, as seen through the lens of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. But it aired on ESPN as part of the 30 for 30 series and was made by sports documentarian Ezra Edelman, who also directed Magic and Bird, and O.J. Simpson was a football player, though it's hard to remember that now. Without this Oscar-winning epic, there would be no Last Dance.
Watch it on: Quibi
If you found The Last Dance's executive drama fascinating, you should check out this shortform docuseries about the Donald Sterling scandal. In 2014, the then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was caught on tape making racist comments, which led to him being banned from the NBA and forced to sell the team. For the first time on camera, the Clippers at the time, including star point guard Chris Paul and coach Doc Rivers, tell the story of how they asserted their power and forced the owner out. This is a more recent story than the others from the Jordan era, but it's the first basketball docuseries trying to immediately capitalize on the success of The Last Dance.
The Last Dance is available to stream on Netflix and ESPN+.