Director Jason Hehir Talks Meeting Michael Jordan, Creation of 'The Last Dance'

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2020

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 29:  Director Jason Hehir attends the Premiere Of HBO's
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The Last Dance director Jason Hehir wants you to know one thing about Michael Jordan: He is a nice, polite guy.

No, really. He is.

"My experience with him is that he is a nice guy...it's easy for someone to come in and be polite, but he was exceedingly respectful to me and my crew," Hehir said on The Boardroom. "Asking questions, joking around. Whether he knew it or not, he was creating memories for everybody on the crew just for interacting with this guy and having him be as dominant as he was.

"The makeup woman, and he was adamant that no one in the house could be smoking cigars or nothing could be lit up near her. He was just a polite Southern guy, which is what he is at heart."

For those who have watched the first four episodes of The Last Dance, "polite Southern guy" is probably the last descriptor you would expect.

Jordan is shown in perhaps his most candid light, featuring old footage of him making fun of late general manager Jerry Krause, jokingly exposing teammate infidelities and being described as ruthlessly competitive to the point of alienating his teammates. There is also recent footage of him still holding decades-long grudges—most notably against Krause and Isiah Thomas, who he described as an "assh--e."

Jordan even says in The Last Dance that he expects the documentary to make people think he's a "horrible guy." That appears to not have been the case to the people on the film crew, with Hehir describing Jordan as being "genuine and authentic and honest and real and candid" throughout filming.

Hehir, who has produced several ESPN films, including the Fab Five documentary, said he was approached in July 2016 about working on The Last Dance. He was one of a "handful" of directors considered for the project, which already had hundreds of hours of film in the vault from the 1997-98 season. 

The NBA had never released the footage, in part because Jordan had to sign off on its rights and had refused to do so for more than two decades. Hehir said the entire process of even "getting to the starting line" took a year-and-a-half—highlighted by several meetings with producers, network executives, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Jordan himself.

"It was like a video game. You have to keep on beating a henchman, and another henchman, and another henchman, and then pretty soon you get to the big boss," Hehir said of the meetings. "I had a meeting with Michael in September 2017, and that was after a meeting with Adam Silver. So you know you're dealing with a big henchman or a big boss when Adam Silver isn't even the final step in the latter. So I met with Michael, and we got along well. We had a good rapport. Then everything came to a standstill because of those entities that I mentioned before. It's very tough to get them to agree to all of the parameters of this project."

Given the entertainment value the first four installments have provided, suffice it to say the entire sports world is thankful that all these parties came together—no matter how gradual the process.