Given the smashing success of ESPN’s "The Last Dance," a 10-part documentary about Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, we can expect to see more such behind-the-scenes features on great players and teams. In fact, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes recently reported that the Lakers filmed the late-Kobe Bryant’s final season in a similar manner and will eventually put it to film to commemorate the Mamba’s legacy.
This trend of raw, uncut basketball documentaries has me wanting to see more deep dives into how superstars interact with their teammates at practice, in the locker room and in do-or-die situations. I want to learn more about player-coach-front-office dynamics behind closed doors. I want to see how organizations react, in real time, to crises and drama that are unique to professional sports.
In other words, I’d love to see these 10 teams get “The Last Dance” documentary treatment:
1. 2018-19 Warriors
As was recently detailed in Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ book, "The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty," Kevin Durant’s contentious final season in Golden State was about as strange as it gets. On one hand, Durant was probably the best player in the NBA. On the other hand, he was essentially a mercenary, as he’d all but said he was leaving the franchise in free agency the following summer.
The drama-filled regular season featured an infamous in-game blowup between Draymond Green and Durant, a number of bizarre incidents with Durant and the media and behind-the-scenes griping by Durant about how the fans and media treated homegrown stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. And just as Durant’s on-court play reached the apex of his career during the playoffs (he was averaging 35.4 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 5.0 apg. on 52-43-91 shooting before he was injured), he strained his calf. A month later he returned to try to lead the Warriors out of a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, only to rupture his Achilles. One game later, Thompson tore his ACL, and the Warriors' dynasty came to a sudden end. Durant then signed with the Nets as Curry was on a flight to meet with him to make one last recruiting pitch to stay. So much to unfold!
2. 2015-16 Cavaliers
The Cavaliers’ historic 3-1 comeback against the 73-9 Warriors to win their first NBA championship is enough to deserve documentary treatment. But that’s not even half the story one could tell about this Cleveland team. There was the David Blatt firing in the middle of the season despite the team having the best record in the East. There could be a deep dive into Blatt-LeBron relationship dating to the previous season, when Blatt repeatedly made coaching blunders and LeBron repeatedly showed him up. This was also the beginning of Kyrie Irving’s rise to prominence but also the start of his bizarre behavior, which ultimately led to him requesting a trade. Other fascinating personalities in the organization (David Griffin, Ty Lue, Kevin Love, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, Richard Jefferson) also would assuredly provide some entertaining commentary and insight into this crazy season.
3. 2015-16 Sixers
The 2015-16 season was the height of “The Process” for the 76ers, as they finished with the third-worst winning percentage in NBA history (10-72, .122). Beginning in 2013-14, general manager Sam Hinkie, who had been brought in to turn the franchise around, had the team purposely tank for three seasons in an effort to obtain superstar talent through the draft. The Sixers had only three players on their roster with more than three years of NBA service (Elton Brand, Carl Landry and Ish Smith), and the team’s immaturity showed — both in its record and off-the-court issues. And while “The Process” ultimately worked, as it landed them Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the NBA forced the franchise to bring in longtime NBA front office personnel Jerry and Bryan Colangelo to oversee the rebuild. This, of course, led to Hinkie’s resignation. Incompetence is often as fascinating as greatness.
4. 2013-14 Clippers
This was the second full season of the Lob City Clippers featuring an absolutely loaded roster of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and others. The Clippers finished 57-25 in the regular season and sported the league’s top-rated offense and ninth-rated defense. Everything was set up perfectly for a potential championship run as the team entered the playoffs. Then the infamous tapes of then-owner Donald Sterling making horrific racist comments were leaked. The league quickly banned Sterling, but the team was left to deal with the fallout. L.A. still gutted out a first-round win over the up-and-coming Warriors but ultimately fell apart down the stretch in a back-and-forth, second-round loss to the Thunder. The most interesting aspect of this documentary would be the team’s internal debate over whether to boycott Game 5 (the game after the tapes leaked), something it decided against but likely would have handled differently had it had the benefit of hindsight.
5. 2010-11 Heat
The minute LeBron said he was “taking his talents to South Beach,” the 2010-11 Miami Heat instantly became the most divisive team in NBA history. Every game, every quote, every eye roll was scrutinized. ESPN’s "First Take" should still be sending LeBron and the Heat royalties for providing the show with half of its daily content. From the cheesy preseason rally parade, to the LeBron-Spoelstra shoulder bump, to LeBron’s return to Cleveland to his puzzling meltdown in the championship, this team was an absolute roller coaster all season. It would be fascinating to see how the players and coaches were handling the outside noise and stress that came with being the most hated team in sports during the social media explosion.
6. 2006-07 Warriors
The “We Believe” Warriors had everything you could ever ask for in a documentary. They had personalities galore: head coach Don Nelson, Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes, Monta Ellis, Al Harrington and Jason Richardson. The locker room, practice and off-the-court stories would have been profoundly entertaining (not to mention eyebrow-raising). They ran a modern, spread-out, up-tempo offense that led to tons of wild games. And most importantly, this team had the greatest first-round upset in NBA history, walloping MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the 67-15 Mavericks in the first round in six games -- the first time an eight-seed beat a one-seed in a seven-games series. For some context on the absurdity of that upset, the Warriors went 67-15 in Kevin Durant’s first season (2016-17).
7. 2004-06 Pacers
Equipped with arguably the best team in the league, led by Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) and Reggie Miller, Indiana came out of the gates hot. Then things got crazy. First, Artest requested time off to work on his rap album. A few days later, he was the central figure of the infamous Malice at the Palace. This incident alone deserves a five-part series.
Two years later, most of the team went to Club Rio (a strip club) during the preseason and got into an altercation, earning the team a ton of negative headlines. We need all the real-time, first-person accounts from the Malice and the Club Rio incidents, and we needed them yesterday.
8. 2003-04 Lakers
This was “The Last Dance” for the Shaq-Kobe era Lakers that had dominated the early-2000s and won three consecutive titles. However, this final season did not culminate in a championship. Instead, it was a drama-filled year of in-fighting between Lakers superstars and a Finals embarrassment against the Pistons. The Shaq-Kobe relationship had boiled over, as Kobe’s hard-driving ways alienated him from his teammates — this was according to head coach Phil Jackson! This season also featured some ring-chasing by Karl Malone and Gary Payton and one of the craziest buzzer-beaters in playoff history, by Derek Fisher. Finally, this was also the season in which Kobe was on trial for his sexual assault charge, adding another layer of complexity to this wild year.
9. Early-2000s 'Jail' Blazers
In the 1999-2000 season, the Blazers blew a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers — the franchise wouldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs again until 2014. Over the next few seasons, Shawn Kemp, Zach Randolph, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Ruben Patterson, Qyntel Woods, Bonzi Wells and others had a number of public embarrassments and run-ins with the law. There were also some less serious events that would have been eye-opening to hear about in the moment, such as the time Randolph sucker-punched Patterson in the face and hid out at a teammate’s house because he feared for his life. Not everything in this documentary will be ugly. Head coach Mo Cheeks helped a 13-year-old girl who faltered during her rendition of the national anthem, turning an embarrassing moment into a memorable one for everyone.
10. 1994-95 Rockets
This documentary would follow the “Double-Clutch” Rockets on their way to a surprise title defense, but the film could touch on a number of fascinating teams around the Association that season. Obviously, the Rockets, behind reigning MVP Hakeem Olajuwon and midseason acquisition Clyde Drexler, had a historic run to the title, first defeating the three-seed Jazz in five games, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to take down the two-seed Suns in seven, spanking the one-seed Spurs in six and sweeping the up-and-coming Magic in four. They also had a key player from the previous year’s title team, Vernon Maxwell, quit in the middle of the first round! There also were the cool subplots of the meteoric rise (and subsequent fall) of the Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway Magic as well as the Michael Jordan comeback, both of which could be explored in this flick.