After 'The Last Dance', Which NBA Teams Should Get Their Own Documentary?

Five weeks ago, The Last Dance premiered following months of febrile anticipation.

Countless debates over Michael Jordan's boundless desire to win, dodgy pizzas and the merits of the Triangle Offense later, ESPN's 10-part documentary chronicling Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls is over.

Jason Hehir's documentary has received almost universal praise, developed into a pop-culture phenomenon and gave fans starved of live sports because of the novel coronavirus pandemic something to look forward to.

It also sparked conversations over which teams could get a similar treatment and be the subject of a docuseries.

Emulating Jordan's status as global icon and the dominance the Bulls exerted over the NBA in the 1990s is nigh-on impossible, but few professional leagues are as awash with storylines as the NBA.

Some, like the rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics that defined the 1980s have already been the subject of a documentary. Other teams—think of the 1950s Minneapolis Lakers and the 1960s Celtics—defined an era but the relatively primitive technology from the times makes a behind-the-scenes documentary an unworkable proposition.

With that in mind, here are four teams that would make the perfect subject for a tell-all docuseries.

Detroit Pistons 1988-1991

The Last Dance delved deep into the bitter feud between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls that defined the Eastern Conference at the turn of the 1980s. For four consecutive seasons between 1988 and 1991 the Pistons and the Bulls met in the playoffs, with Detroit winning the first three installments, before Chicago ultimately delivered the Pistons' very own last dance in 1991.

Before the feud with the Bulls developed, the Pistons had a similarly intense rivalry with the Boston Celtics, the then-dominant force in the Eastern Conference.

In 1988, the Pistons all but ended the Showtime Era that had delivered the Los Angeles Lakers five titles in eight years, but their bruising, confrontational approach won them few friends in the league. As The Last Dance showed, relationships between a number of former Pistons players and other NBA stars remain frosty to this day.

Few teams, however, would make a better subject for a behind-the-scenes documentary as the "Bad Boys". Imagine Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer and Joe Dumars speaking freely about the so-called "Jordan Rules," Detroit's bruising style aimed at limiting Jordan.

A The Last Dance-style look at the Pistons would also be intriguing to see which of their former rivals agree to take part in interviews.

Los Angeles Lakers 2000-2002

Superstar players, enormous egos, Phil Jackson and a three-peat. In many ways, the Los Angeles Lakers that dominated the NBA between 2000 and 2002 are the logical follow-up to The Last Dance. After taking a one-year sabbatical following his departure from the Chicago Bulls, Jackson moved to Los Angeles to take charge of a Lakers team that had not won an NBA title since 1988, despite making the playoffs in every intervening year bar 1994.

By the end of his third season in Los Angeles, Jackson had added another three titles to the six he had secured in Chicago. With Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant at the peak of their powers—Shaq won NBA Finals MVP in three straight seasons between 2000 and 2002—the Lakers pulverized their rivals during a three-year spell.

Much like the Bulls, the Lakers seemed to have to work harder to clinch a conference title than during the NBA Finals—they were taken the distance in the Western Conference Finals by the Portland Trail Blazers and the Sacramento Kings in 2000 and 2002 respectively, but dropped only three games in total during their three NBA Finals appearances.

Much like the Bulls, not everything was rosy behind the scenes. Far from it, in fact. The relationship between Shaq and Kobe soured beyond repair—the duo eventually settled their differences years later—while Bryant openly criticized Jackson's Triangle Offense.

Momentarily halted in 2003, when they were dethroned by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, the Lakers' dominance came to an abrupt end 12 months later.

Defeated in five games in the NBA Finals by the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers waved goodbye to Shaq and Jackson and would not win a title until 2009, during the latter's second spell in charge.

It may lack the Hollywood ending of The Last Dance, but a documentary over this five-year period of Lakers history would make for riveting TV.

Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant (L) of the Los Angeles Lakers holds the Larry O'Brien trophy as teammate Shaquille O'Neal (L) holds the MVP trophy after winning the NBA Championship against Indiana Pacers 19 June, 2000, after Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. The Lakers won the game 116-111 to take the NBA title 4-2 in the best-of-seven series. AFP/Getty

Golden State Warriors 2016-2019

How does a team that has won 140 regular-season games over two seasons and one NBA title get better? By adding one of the best players on the planet in free agency and become the team everyone loves to hate, that's how.

The 2016-17 Warriors would be ideal material for a documentary. Following a historic season for the good—the Warriors became the first team to win 73 games in the regular season—and for the bad—they became the first team to surrender a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals—Golden State added Kevin Durant in free agency.

An already extraordinary team turned into an almost unstoppable juggernaut, while Durant instantaneously became public enemy No. 1 after leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Bay Area.

As was the case with The Last Dance, there would be no shortage of storylines for a documentary covering the Warriors. From a basketball standpoint, Steve Kerr tweaked the most explosive offense of the modern NBA in order to accommodate Durant, a move that paid off handsomely.

The Warriors won 67 games for the second time in three seasons and exacted revenge on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, dethroning the defending champions in five games with Durant named NBA Finals MVP.

Off the court, the prospect of having cameras following Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry is mouthwatering, but the Warriors deliberately opted against featuring in a documentary.

"They [the Chicago Bulls] were putting a period at the end of their sentence, maybe an exclamation point," Warriors co-executive chairman Peter Guber, who is among The Last Dance's executive producers, was quoted as saying by NBC Sports Bay Area last month.

"They had a marker. For [the Warriors], it was the beginning. As a storyteller, you're always looking for an interesting story. But the choice of when and how to tell it is different. The point in time when you choose to tell the story is a fixed point. It wasn't the right time."

The Warriors won a second consecutive title in 2018 and made a fifth straight appearance in the NBA Finals last season, losing to the Toronto Raptors 4-2 before Durant left a month later in free agency.

Kerr, however, felt the Warriors' circumstances differed greatly from the Bulls'.

"We're trying to keep this thing going," the Warriors head coach told The Athletic earlier this month.

"A lot of our players are still here, and we're trying to rev it back up, so there was no sense of finality. If anything, we're trying to avoid that."

Oh, what could have been.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Durant #35 during Game Two of the NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals at ORACLE Arena on May 4, 2017 in Oakland, California. Ezra Shaw/Getty

Cleveland Cavaliers 2016

In decades to come, NBA annals will come to show the Golden State Warriors held a stranglehold over the entire NBA between 2014 and 2019. Few teams felt the Warriors' destructive force as hard as the Cleveland Cavaliers, who reached the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons only to fall to the Warriors on three occasions.

Exceptions to the rule, however, don't come much better than the 2016 NBA Finals. In the second season of his second spell with the Cavs, LeBron James embarked on a personal crusade to bring Cleveland its first NBA title. Having swept the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavs defeated the Toronto Raptors 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals to earn a shot at revenge against a Warriors team that had just become the first to win 73 regular-season games in NBA history. With four games of the Finals gone, however, the Warriors led 3-1 and looked poised to clinch back-to-back titles.

No team had ever relinquished a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals and Cleveland looked dead and buried, until LeBron and Kyrie Irving turned the series around as the Cavs clinched a maiden title in a memorable Game 7 in Oakland, California.

A 34-minute mini-movie of the 2016 Finals produced by NBA is available on YouTube but this series, perhaps more than any other in modern history, would deserve its own behind-the-scenes documentary. Yes, the Cavs barely put up a fight in the following two seasons when they again reached the NBA Finals against the Warriors but, frankly, that makes 2016 even more riveting.

About the writer

Dan Cancian is currently a reporter for Newsweek based in London, England. Prior to joining Newsweek in January 2018, he was a news and business reporter at International Business Times UK. Dan has also written for The Guardian and The Observer. 

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