Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
One of the parlor games that has come with the popularity of the ESPN/Netflix documentary The Last Dance is to speculate on the other teams and sports that are deserving of similar treatment.
It's easy to forget, but baseball already has its version of the Michael Jordan doc: the 2011 HBO film Derek Jeter 3K.
It's fitting that Derek Jeter's project preceded that of his longtime friend's. He and Jordan (at least the Jordan that we see on film) share a strikingly similar demeanor and many traits.
Both are in possession of a sharp intelligence. Both are admired by teammates, but often in a distant way that resulted from their coldness to all but a small inner circle. Both are sensitive to criticism and, while professional with the media, could also be extremely condescending when they didn't like a question or storyline.
Derek Jeter 3K follows the Yankee captain as he approaches his 3,000th career hit. Like The Last Dance, this is hardly O.J.: Made in America, the excellent 2016 ESPN doc that presented the O.J. Simpson case against a backdrop of race and culture -- and was very much not a collaboration with its subject.
Both the Jeter and Jordan films show their protagonist/curators, allowing just enough access to claim to be revelatory. But make no mistake: In both cases, we see only what they want us to see. In some ways, their attempt to feign transparency makes the results far less honest than pure PR: This is sponcon cloaked in a veneer of contrived access.
As the famed documentarian Ken Burns said recently about The Last Dance, "If you are there influencing the very fact of it getting made, it means that certain aspects that you don't necessarily want in aren't going to be in, period. And that's not the way you do good journalism, and it's certainly not the way you do good history, my business."
Burns also noted that the involvement of Jordan's production company, Jump 23, was a further strike against its value as history. The Last Dance is entertainment -- at times, compelling entertainment -- but it can't be trusted as anything but its own subject's spin on events.
Jeter did not produce Derek Jeter 3K, making it a technically more legitimate enterprise than The Last Dance. But it's clear that he didn't allow any access with which he was not comfortable.
The Jeter doc shows interactions with then-Yankees hitting guru Gary Denbo. It shows his massive apartment on Manhattan's East Side and his private chef. It shows his girlfriend at the time, actress Minka Kelly.
It does not delve into Jeter's complex relationship with frenemy Alex Rodriguez, and the way his failure to help A-Rod acclimate struck many in the Yankees organization as a dereliction of his duty as captain. It does not mention that the Yanks signed CC Sabathia in 2009 in an attempt to heal the broken clubhouse that fractured under Jeter's reign.
In other words, it's not a full or particularly valuable look at Jeter. Neither is The Last Dance with Jordan.
That's perfectly fine -- we all need entertainment -- as long as we understand the limitations of what we are watching.