Ken Burns blasts Michael Jordan's control over ESPN's 'The Last Dance,' says it's not good journalism

Jack Baer
Writer

With four episodes aired, ESPN’s “The Last Dance” is a massive hit. The 10-part Michael Jordan documentary has received strong reviews and even better ratings.

However, one person not included in the millions of people watching is a man considered one of the pre-eminent documentary producers of our time.

Ken Burns, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker responsible for documentaries such as “Baseball,” “Jazz” and “The National Parks: America's Best Idea,” told The Wall Street Journal that he has not watched “The Last Dance.”

He then added that the arrangement through which ESPN created “The Last Dance” — partnering with Jordan, who had control over the archived footage the series features — is something he would “never, never, never, never” agree to as a filmmaker.

From the Journal:

“I find it the opposite direction of where we need to be going,” he says.

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

Burns isn’t the first person to question Jordan’s effect on the objectivity of “The Last Dance,” and some apparent decisions from the series have raised a few eyebrows.

Has the ‘The Last Dance’ been biased in favor of Michael Jordan?

One prominent example is the depiction of the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons’ decision to walk off the court after getting swept by Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. As Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill noted, the documentary conveniently left out an earlier quote from Jordan that Isiah Thomas would later say led to the walk-off:

“The Pistons are undeserving champions,” Jordan said on the day between Games 3 and 4 in Detroit in 1991. “The Bad Boys are bad for basketball.”

However, the documentary did allow Thomas to explain the decision himself, and used archived footage to show the Boston Celtics doing a similar walk-off to the Pistons in 1988. Jordan was given the last word though, profanely laying into Thomas and noting the point guard’s rationalization for the walk-off has changed over the years.

The partnership seems to have also affected ESPN’s written content, with an old story re-published without misogynistic comments from Jordan about Reggie Miller.

Another frequent target of Jordan’s ire, former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, has been on the receiving end of a number of negative comments in the documentary, though that might have happened even in a more independent series.

We still have six more episodes of “The Last Dance” remaining, and it could be telling how some later sagas of Jordan’s career are depicted. Still to be addressed in the series are Jordan’s infamous gambling compulsion, his “Republicans buy sneakers too” quote and his baseball career.

Michael Jordan effectively has veto power over his own documentary. That is a massive conflict of interest. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus))

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