The NBA undertook an ambitious project to film behind-the-scenes footage of Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls.
Yet, we’re seeing it this quickly only because ESPN accelerated production.
What took so long?
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, then running NBA Entertainment, oversaw the project. He needed approval from Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who left it to Phil Jackson and – crucially – Jordan.
Silver, via Ramona Shelburne:
“Our agreement will be that neither one of us can use this footage without the other’s permission,” Silver told Jordan. “It will be kept — I mean literally it was physical film — as a separate part of our Secaucus [New Jersey] library. Our producers won’t have access to it. It will only be used with your permission.”
The footage sat dormant for years.
Finally, producer Mike Tollin pitched Jordan – on the day of the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship parade.
Marc Stein of The New York Times:
Tollin was in Charlotte, N.C., to make his first face-to-face pitch to Jordan as executive producer — on the same day as the parade for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to celebrate a historic N.B.A. finals comeback against the 73-win Warriors and the city’s first major championship in 52 years.
“He said yes in the room, which doesn’t happen too often in my business,” said Tollin, who has produced or directed numerous sports projects, including movies such as “Coach Carter” and “Varsity Blues.”
Correlation does not equal causation. The timing didn’t necessarily make Jordan more likely to agree. It might have made him less likely to agree. Who knows?
But LeBron James did make significant strides in the greatest-of-all-time debate against Jordan with that 2016 title. This documentary does catapult Jordan into the forefront of the conversation and exposes a new generation – which has grown up watching LeBron – to Jordan’s greatness.
If – if – Jordan was feeling insecure about his legacy as LeBron reached new heights, approving of this documentary was an effective way to push back.