Two months into quarantine and things are ever so slightly starting to loosen up. It couldn’t have come at a better time because people are running out of things to do. First we had Tiger King to entertain us during the lockdown, then trash reality tv shows like Love is Blind and Too Hot To Handle shamed us into watching them. Arguably the most enthralling television phenomenon that people around the world followed religiously was The Last Dance, the 10-part documentary chronicling the life and career of the greatest athlete of all-time, Michael Jordan, and the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls.
The Last Dance was rushed to come out during the lockdown and kept sports and non-sports fans entertained for the last five weeks. The last two episodes of the doc aired Sunday night and now there is an Air Jordan sized hole in the entertainment landscape for the millions of people who are still on lockdown. The natural question following the final episode is “who else could have a Last Dance style documentary?
There are thousands of famous athletes that could and have been subjects of documentaries over the years, but how many of them could live up to Michael Jordan? The answer is not many. Jordan is the most famous athlete of all-time across any sport and took the NBA global in the ’90s. No one would quite have the same allure as Jordan, and most athletes didn’t let a film crew follow them around for a full year to document their final title run.
There would have to be some criteria that athletes would have to meet before we pick which five athletes could have a 10-part documentary about them. First and foremost, the subject athlete would have to still be alive. You need to be able to talk to them and have all-encompassing interviews like the producers had with Jordan for The Last Dance. You wouldn’t want to have to rely on archival interviews and footage for your 10-part project. Unfortunately that crosses off several great candidates including: Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Wilt Chamberlain, and most tragically Kobe Bryant. The other obvious criteria for any documentary is the subject has to have an interesting story. Jordan isn’t just interesting because he was the best, he had a great story. He wasn’t a prodigy, he had to work hard, he didn’t win for years, then became the face of the NBA and basketball around the world, he had the signature shoes, he was in Space Jam, he up and retired at the height of his career, there’s signature games to recall, a cast of characters to interview, and dozens of subplots to bring to light. Would that be the same for say LeBron James? He was a prodigy, has always been the best, didn’t win, made a decision, won some championships and is very famous. Does that sound quite as interesting? No scandals other than his handling of the decision makes him a poor subject for a 10-part series. There would be little to no drama so historically boring guys without great stories like LeBron, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tim Duncan and others would be out because it would be too boring.
So that leaves us with a slightly shorter list of athletes that could have a The Last Dance type documentary made. Here are my five picks that fit the criteria and could carry a 10-part documentary that people would care about.
1.) Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is probably the only athlete to come close to Jordan’s global popularity in the 21st Century. Woods is arguably the greatest and most important golfer of all-time. He rose to popularity in the mid-to-late 1990’s and was an absolute rock star from 1997-2008. Then it all came crashing down. Most know the story. Woods injured his leg, missed some time on the tour, then all of a sudden his wife was smashing his car with a golf club and we found he he banged every one except that wasn’t his wife while he was married. He had a popularity tailspin, his injuries mounted and most thought he was washed up for the better part of a decade. Then in April of last year, Woods roared back to the forefront and won the Masters, a comeback story for the ages. This documentary would have every element and you have a cast of characters to speak to including Woods, his caddies, others on the tour that he clashed with like Phil Mickelson, maybe coax his ex-wife into an interview, Lindsey Vonn and a whole cast of others along the way. This is the one athlete that I think, if done right, could come close to and possibly eclipse the popularity of The Last Dance.
2.) Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson is basically Dennis Rodman level crazy and Michael Jordan level athletic. Tyson was on of the most popular boxers and athletes of all-time during his prime. He was a knockout king, helped make boxing more palatable for the next generation into the ’90s, had his own video game and also had a lot of problems. He was nuts, he bit Evander Holyfield’s ear off, went to jail, his fall in the ring was as fast and shocking as his rise, and there have to be other Tyson stories that we haven’t heard yet that he could shed some light on during the interviews. Aside from Tyson you get Holyfield and other boxers of his era, lug in guys like Don King, the guys from the Hangover, and literally anyone from the ’80s and ’90s to talk about the Tyson era. It would be incredibly funny, dark, and one of the most interesting docu-series’ ever made. The only knock is there is already a Tyson doc, but it’s over 10-years-old and only about 90 minutes long. The more in-depth you get with Tyson, the more exciting little nuggets you will get.
3.) Barry Bonds
A Bonds documentary would be the hardest one to get made because it would hinge on him admitting that he did a shit ton of steroids, which he will never do, but the subject is interesting. Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players of all-time and the centerpiece of the biggest scandal in MLB history. He holds records that many in the game don’t acknowledge, and had a horrible relationship with the media and fans during his playing days. For the doc you have Bonds sit down like Jordan, drinking and smoking a big cigar, you somehow get him to open up and press him about the steroids and hopefully he admits what he did. You craft other stories with interviews with the other steroid users from the era including a Rodmanesque appearance from Jose Canseco, talk to Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, ARod, and let them attack Bonds for being the reason they all got caught. Talk to some slimballs from Balco and a bunch of trainers who were around Bonds and injected him or watched him do steroids and pin him down. This would be a pretty combative documentary but if he finally admits it, the 10-part series could be groundbreaking.
4.) Brett Favre
Trust me, a Favre documentary would be better than you think. His life and career have a lot more layers and most fans remember. He was incredibly popular in the ’90s and arguably the face of the league for a few years. Favre was a lot of fun for Packers fans and many other fans to root for, and is now almost a punchline 10 years after his career ended. A Favre doc could get into his early career and trade to the Packers, his rise to success and fame, addiction and rehab, comeback and Super Bowl win, Monday Night Football game after his dad died, eventual demise in Green Bay and feud with Aaron Rodgers, retirement saga, resurfacing with the Jets and then Vikings, almost taking Minnesota to a Super Bowl, iron man starting streak, subsequent sexual harassment accusations, and many other storylines. We get absolute gold during our interviews with Favre himself on his farm/ranch in Mississippi. Talk to his teammates and coaches (especially Mike Holmgren), get some good perspective from his wife, and bring in John Madden to just jerk him off for ten hours. Favre is simultaneously one of the most exciting, maddening, fun, and tragic figures in NFL history and would make for a surprisingly deep 10-part documentary.
5.) Bill Russell
We need someone to round out the list who wasn’t at the height of their career during the ’90s. Bill Russell retired over 50 years ago, but his impact on the NBA and sports is still being felt. Russell is one of the five greatest basketball players of all-time and led the Boston Celtics to 11 championships, making him the greatest winner in basketball history. Russell played in an era where Black players were treated like second class citizens, and had to fight just to be respected. He was integral in the civil rights movement and one of the most important activists of his time. Russell would have great perspective on the entire history of the NBA, and it would be incredible to hear what he has to say about his fellow NBA super stars like Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. You get other NBA legends talking about how Russell was the gold standard and motivated them to win. Get interviews with other activists from the time and talk about his activism. Even though most young sports fans might not have the same relationship with Russell as they do with Michael Jordan, Russell’s story is one worth telling.
Some honorable mentions who didn’t quite make the cut included: Hank Aaron, Lawrence Taylor, Willie Mays, Magic Johnson, Jim Brown, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, and Deion Sanders.