How Adam Silver Convinced Michael Jordan to Let the NBA Film His Final Season

'The Last Dance' is an all-access look at Jordan's final season with the Bulls

Michael Jordan Documentary
Michael Jordan listens to a question at press conference at the 1998 NBA Finals.(Getty)
JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images

Starting on Sunday night and continuing for five total weeks, ESPN will air The Last Dance, a ten-part documentary chronicling the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-1998 season. Ahead of the miniseries’s premiere, NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke with ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and revealed how the all-access footage was acquired 22 years ago, and how they got Michael Jordan to approve its usage for The Last Dance.

In 1997, Silver was the head of NBA Entertainment, and he came to Jordan with the idea by promising him control over the footage before it ever aired:

Our agreement will be that neither one of us can use this footage without the other’s permission. 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.

However, it wasn’t until 2016 that Jordan finally consented to the project, when the right producer came along. Mike Tollin, whose credits are a highlight reel of sports-related movies and shows, became interested in the project in February of 2016, and got a meeting with His Airness four months later, coincidentally on the same day that the Cleveland Cavaliers were celebrating their NBA title with a parade.

Tollin pitched Jordan with a lookbook of storylines, but it wasn’t until Jordan looked at his production credits that he signed on.  Specifically, it was Iverson, the Tollin-produced 2014 documentary on Allen Iverson, that sealed the deal:

He’s actually looking at them all, and in the bottom right corner is Iverson. He goes, “You did that?” […] Jordan took his glasses off, looked up and said, “I watched that thing three times. Made me cry. Love that little guy.” […] “Let’s do it.”

The Last Dance, which promises to be a never-before-seen look at one of the most famous NBA season of all time, premieres on ESPN this Sunday night.

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