ESPN’s The Last Dance is dominated by images of Michael Jordan: archival material of the young, gravity-defying Jordan; behind-the-scenes footage of Jordan at the height of his championship era; interviews with modern-day Jordan, who’s grown so bulky and temperamental in retirement he appears to have aged into an actual bull. But occasionally, other people get to tell their side of the Jordan story, too. Some are close friends or former teammates, some are journalists who covered the era, some are just fans. All have something to say, but with 83 different interview subjects, not all of what they have to say is equally valuable. Of all of them, who is the best? Find out in our ranking of all the non-Jordan talking heads in The Last Dance, as determined by their screen presence, level of insight, and relevance to the wider story. Turn on “Sirius,” and let’s run down this sprawling squad.
Note: This post covers only interview subjects who appeared in the first eight episodes of The Last Dance. It will be updated once ESPN provides screeners for the last two installments.
83. Justin Timberlake, singer
When people parody documentaries like The Last Dance, this is what they’re mocking. Of all the superfluous talking-head segments in the series, none is less necessary than Justin Timberlake’s: a man with little apparent connection to Michael Jordan, telling a not-especially-interesting story about buying Air Jordans as a kid. More like Unjustified!
82. Jerry Reinsdorf, Bulls owner
Much has been made about the way The Last Dance massages its narrative to suit Jordan’s version of events, but it’s also striking how self-serving Reinsdorf’s appearances are. The series allows the real-estate mogul to be seen exactly how he wants to be seen: one moment a benevolent team patriarch, the next a powerless figurehead who regretfully goes along with Jerry Krause’s machinations. That Krause is no longer around to defend himself makes it even grosser.
81. Bill Clinton, former governor of Arkansas
I suppose the man who was president during most of Michael Jordan’s championships could have added valuable commentary about the ’90s as a historical epoch. But here he just pops up to say that he saw Scottie Pippen play in college, and he knew Pip was gonna be really good. Even putting aside Clinton’s track record of being an unreliable narrator, it’s not exactly fascinating stuff.
80. John Ligmanowski, Bulls equipment manager
He should be glad that his extended riff about the “sniff brothers” came the week before the internet collectively fell in love with John Michael Wozniak.
79. Buzz Peterson, UNC teammate
Notable for being a dead ringer for actor Christopher McDonald.
78. Kevin Loughery, Bulls coach
Jordan’s first professional coach has largely been written out of the legend, and merits only a tiny bit of screen time as a result.
77. Billy Packer, college-basketball broadcaster
Just here to give some basic information about Jordan’s UNC career.
76. Howard Knight, Nike executive
I get it, they had to include the shoes. But episode five’s extended sequence on the Air Jordans is the draggiest section of the whole miniseries, and Knight’s appearance doesn’t liven it up.
75. Steve East, Scottie Pippen’s UCA teammate
Doesn’t say much, but has a bit of an aw-shucks charm.
74. Bob Costas, broadcaster
His archival segments are better.
73. Dr. John Hefferon, Bulls team physician
Hefferon does his interview wearing scrubs and a lab coat, so you know immediately, Hey, this guy’s a doctor!
72. Adam Silver, NBA commissioner
Whatever Silver’s strengths as an executive are, oozing charisma during a ten-second TV appearance is not among them.
71. Fred Lynch, Jordan’s high-school coach
Lynch gets the gig of telling the obligatory “cut from varsity” story. As NBC used to say, if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!
70. Willow Bay, broadcaster
The journalists often act as the unofficial narrators of The Last Dance, but Bay only gets a brief moment in the spotlight, explaining a minor sponsorship controversy at the 1992 Olympics.
69. Sidney Moncrief, Milwaukee Bucks player
An early Goliath who gets taken down. More interesting as an embodiment of all the great players Jordan would overshadow than for anything he says.
68. Nas, rapper
Basically the same thing as Timberlake, but less annoying, and with the added benefit of going first.
67. Mike Barnett, Birmingham Bulls hitting coach
Here to overturn the conventional wisdom that Jordan was a bad baseball player. “He started out with a 13-game hitting streak!”
66. Scott Burrell, Bulls teammate
Burrell became a Jordan target because he was too nice, but that niceness also makes him too discreet to dish anything truly juicy.
65. Hannah Storm, broadcaster
Like Costas, mostly there to handle timeline transitions.
64. Ron Coley, Jordan’s high-school coach
Another guy from way back, with a voice I would describe as “syrupy.”
63. Charles Oakley, Bulls teammate
He’s there in person, but Oakley’s most memorable quotes around The Last Dance are extratextual.
62. Ronnie Martin, Scottie Pippen’s childhood friend
Of all the one-off interviewees, Martin shows the best comic timing. Pippen “always knew he was gonna make it to the NBA,” he tells the filmmakers. Did anyone believe him? “Not really.”
61. Jim Stack, Bulls front-office staff
Strong hair and a twitchy demeanor give Stack extreme character-actor energy.
60. James Worthy, UNC teammate
The future Lakers star crossed paths with young Jordan in college, and tells an amusing story about being better than him “for about two weeks.”
59. Joe Pytka, Space Jam director
Perhaps sensing that the silliness of Space Jam would not mesh with the valedictory nature of the project, The Last Dance rushes through Jordan’s big Hollywood gig. But at least we get a glimpse of Pytka’s gloriously leonine mane.
58. Chip Schaefer, Bulls athletic trainer
Secretly a Joe Lo Truglio character.
57. Joe Kleine, Bulls teammate
Like his namesake, pretty anonymous, but dishes good goss.
56. Billy Pippen, brother of Scottie
Perhaps the most country of anyone we meet in The Last Dance, Billy gives insight into Scottie’s childhood in rural Arkansas.
55. Rod Higgins, Bulls teammate
Higgins offers a glimpse into a side of Jordan we don’t often see, the naïve rookie who apparently lived on orange juice and 7 Up.
54. Larry Bird, Celtics player
Not in it as much as you would expect, and when he is, he slightly overdoes it in burnishing the M.J. legend.
53. Melissa Isaacson, Bulls beat writer
Gets less screen time than the other beat writers, but is not afraid to mince words in her account of the backlash that greeted Jordan in the early ’90s.
52. Reggie Miller, Pacers player
Our viewpoint into the Space Jam pickup games. Comes off as slightly delusional in his belief that he will be the one to retire Jordan, but at least he’s honest about it!
51. Tim Hallam, Bulls executive
His testimony soundtracks a montage in episode six about how frickin’ unsettling it must have been to be Air Jordan: “From the moment Michael Jordan leaves his hotel room, the spotlight is on him.”
50. Terry Francona, Birmingham Barons manager
The title-winning manager provides a “holy crap” factor in the baseball interlude: This guy intersected with M.J., too?
49. Ron Harper, Cavaliers player
Briefly became a meme after his lone appearance, thanks to his dismay at not being allowed to guard Jordan on “the Shot.”
48. Brian McIntyre, head of NBA PR
There are fewer amazing Chicago accents in The Last Dance than you might expect, but at least we get a good one from McIntyre, who worked for the Bulls before joining the league office.
47. Patrick Ewing, Knicks player
An all-time great whose role in The Last Dance is to come up short over and over again. He seems slightly bummed about it.
46. J.A. Adande, broadcaster
The Squirtle to Michael Wilbon’s Wartortle.
45. David Stern, NBA commissioner
Ranked this high in part to appease my girlfriend, who is the late executive’s biggest fan. He’s a wry screen presence, which helps disguise the fact that he’s there to enforce the league’s party line, no matter what.
44. Glen Rice, Hornets player
Still seems to be visibly traumatized by his memories of playing against Jordan.
43. Joe O’Neill, Bulls director of ticketing
Another guy who just feels “Chicago.” He leads us into an amusing bit of behind-the-scenes footage, which covers just how hard it was to get tickets to the “Last Dance” season.
42. Michael Wilbon, broadcaster
You get the sense that Wilbon was something of a crutch for the filmmakers, as his plentiful sports-shouting experience means he’s frequently brought in to say the most obvious stuff, with great enthusiasm. He’s good at it, but eventually his segments grate from overuse.
40 and 41. Ronnie and Larry Jordan, brothers of Michael
Since their segments are so often presented in tandem, I’m ranking them together. They do not seem to have much in common with their famous sibling — they’re both smaller, more approachable, and much more southern — but it’s a pity we didn’t get more from them: They’re among the few interview subjects not to be intimidated by him.
39. Danny Ainge, Celtics and Suns player
The revelation that he played golf with Jordan during a pivotal ’80s playoff series single-handedly destroyed a decade’s worth of arguments about the current generation of NBA players.
38. Charles Rosen, Phil Jackson associate
All the major players in The Last Dance get at least one secondary POV, and Rosen is Phil Jackson’s. The James Cromwell look-alike spills all the tea that Jackson won’t, which is to say, he’s the one who talks about doing acid.
37. Doug Collins, Bulls coach
Doug Collins’s segments in The Last Dance are most notable for what they don’t say, as the documentary gets real quiet about the process by which Collins was replaced by Phil Jackson. Hmmm.
36. Rod Thorn, Bulls GM
A creaky, old-school type who gives an inside look on both the ’80s Bulls and the 1992 Olympic team. Second only to Jordan in finger wags per minute.
35. Jud Buechler, Bulls teammate
The least screen time of the cavalcade of Bulls role-players. Wears a nice sweater. Appears to live in Viola Davis’s apartment from Widows.
34. David Falk, Jordan’s agent.
Gravelly. Bald. You don’t fuck with him.
33. George Koehler, Jordan’s “personal assistant and best friend”
If The Last Dance has done anything, it shined a spotlight on Jordan’s innate ability to befriend middle-aged white men. Koehler offers a rare peek behind the curtain of Jordan’s inner circle, but you get the sense he’s not revealing anything Jordan wouldn’t want him to.
32. Bill Cartwright, Bulls teammate
The big man unfortunately is not presented with the opportunity to rebut Jordan’s proclamation that he “didn’t want Bill Cartwright to get the ball with five seconds left.” But when he does speak, it’s with the wisdom and authority of a thousand-year-old tree. He also gets to be the one to drop the hammer on the Bad Boy Pistons: “Put ‘em out of their misery.”
31. Mark Vancil, Bulls beat writer
Vancil seems to hate Jerry Krause almost as much as the Bulls players do, delivering some withering psychological assessments of the late GM’s inferiority complex.
30. Will Perdue, Bulls teammate
Perdue is the Bull who’s not afraid to get a little salty about Jordan’s behavior: “He was an asshole, he was a jerk, he crossed the line on numerous occasions.” But even he comes around to the view that it was what the team needed to be great.
29. Magic Johnson, Lakers player
Magic delights in his role as the big-brother figure of the doc, and his years on TV have given him some comic chops, including a delightful grimace when describing how Jordan “would put his foot on your neck — bwah!”
28. Roy Williams, UNC coach
A genteel Southerner with a perpetual twinkle in his eye. He gives great quote, especially when raving about how Jordan “never frickin’ turned it off!”
27. Charles Barkley, Suns player
Barkley doesn’t get as much screen time as Magic, but he makes more of it. He brings some surprising introspection to his loss in the 1993 Finals. “Sports are like a gunfight,” Barkley muses. “And we lost to the fastest gun.”
26. John Paxson, Bulls teammate
Ever the loyal soldier, the good-natured Paxson dutifully sports a Bulls polo in interviews filmed before he was given the golden parachute from the team’s front office.
25. Pat Riley, Lakers and Knicks coach
Ranks this high almost purely on aesthetics: In outdoor interview segments seemingly filmed in his backyard, Riley looks like the coolest 75-year-old on Earth.
24. Rick Telander, Bulls beat writer
The unheralded role-player of the documentary. Does a lot of the yeoman’s work of exposition, and does it quietly.
23. Brendan Malone, Pistons coach
The Pistons assistant coach not only gives background on Dennis Rodman’s early years in the NBA, he’s also the one who explains the infamous Jordan Rules, most of which boil down to beat the shit out of him!
22. Bill Wennington, Bulls teammate
Wennington is often treated in the doc as the unofficial voice of the Bulls’ bench, possibly because he seems to be friends with everyone and has nary a bad word to say about anything. Bumped up for his amazing handlebar mustache.
21. Tim Grover, Jordan’s trainer
Imagine a man so hard-core that his job is to tell the most insanely competitive athlete of all time what kind of exercises to do. Whatever you’re picturing, Grover does not disappoint.
20. Roy Johnson, NBA writer
When the series needs to get analytical, it brings in Johnson, who’s skilled at boiling down cultural and political currents in a way that’s both vivid and informative.
19. Gary Payton, Supersonics player
Payton clearly has a lot invested in an internal narrative where his defense alllmooost turned around the 1996 Finals. The editing does him extremely dirty on this front.
18. Carmen Electra, Dennis Rodman’s girlfriend
The kind of interview segment that could have easily come off as gratuitous, but Electra turned out to be a delight: funny, self-aware, and willing to dish.
17. Isiah Thomas, Pistons player
If Jerry Krause is the off-court antagonist of The Last Dance, Isiah Thomas is the closest thing the series has to an on-court version. I respect the way the doc lets him get his side of the story out there, but he doesn’t necessarily come off well — a little too slick, with an insincere grin.
16. Andrea Kremer, broadcaster
Kremer gets handed a lot of the exposition, but you can see why. She delivers it in a way that brings the history back to life.
15. Kobe Bryant, Lakers player
Episode five was dedicated to Bryant, and his segment discussing his relationship with Jordan is one of the most emotionally affecting moments of the entire series. Kobe offers us a glimpse of a side of M.J. we don’t often hear about: a supportive mentor to the next generation of stars.
14. Toni Kukoč, Bulls teammate
Kukoč provides an interesting counter-narrative to the M.J.-Pippen party line. Not as a foil the way Isiah Thomas does, but as someone who simply has a different point of view. To its credit, the doc lets this mostly stay unresolved — sometimes people just disagree, you know? In discussing Croatia in the ’90s, Kukoč also gave us the understatement of the series: “The situation at home was not so great … because of the war and everything.”
13. David Aldridge, broadcaster
More dialed-down than the other TV guys, but still able to give a line some juice when he needs to. (I treasure his delivery when talking about the way Scottie defended Magic: “Nobody did that.”) Bonus points for showing up in an absolutely ginormous jacket that makes him look like the basketball version of David Byrne.
12. Steve Kerr, Bulls teammate
Perhaps because his post-playing career has seen as much success as his time on the floor, Kerr is able to bring a lot of perspective to his segments. Only he could tell a story about getting punched in the face by Jordan and give it a happy ending.
11. Ahmad Rashad, broadcaster
Rashad clearly knows Jordan a tick better than the other broadcasters, which possibly gets in the way of his objectivity, but adds an intimacy to his commentary that the others don’t have. Especially in the tricky scenes around the death of James Jordan, Rashad having been in the room with Jordan during some troubled times helps.
10. B.J. Armstrong, Bulls teammate
The baby-faced guard does double duty in the documentary, with some choice stories about what it was like to play alongside Jordan (“He couldn’t have been nice”), and later, what it was like to be matched up against him. His dawning dread when he realizes what Jordan has in store for him in game two of their playoff series is comedy gold.
9. Dr. Todd Boyd, academic
Boyd is here as the representative of people who like Michael Jordan but wish he’d done more with his platform politically. By the nature of the series, they’re never allowed to get the last word, but the professor ably makes his case. He also holds up his end of the bargain fashion-wise, with that flowing chambray work shirt and those magnificent glasses.
8. Dennis Rodman, Bulls teammate
Not always the most coherent interview subject, but 21st-century Rodman remains a fascinating character. His monologue explaining the exhaustive practice that went into his facility for grabbing rebounds was not just entertaining, but genuinely illuminating. And while the documentary devotes plenty of run time to his bizarre behavior, it also includes some touching moments where you can see how much it meant that the Bulls embraced him as they did.
7. Horace Grant, Bulls teammate
If the only quote of Grant’s they used was “straight-up bitches,” that would have been enough. But he was great throughout — happy, boisterous, and surprisingly youthful. A deserved legacy boost for the third-best player on the initial three-peat squad.
6. John Salley, Pistons player
I did not come into The Last Dance as the world’s biggest Salley fan, but he quickly became my favorite of Jordan’s former opponents. He’s the embodiment of the Bad Boy Pistons, an eyebrow-arching bitch who absolutely lives for drama. (He also does a hilarious impression of young Dennis Rodman.) It makes sense that his side gig is acting — when he’s mockingly referring to Jordan as “the savior,” he’s the kind of villain you can’t help but root for.
5. Barack Obama, former Chicago resident
The chyron in his first appearance got all the hype, but I actually prefer his second appearance, in which he discusses the price black icons pay to cross over into the hearts of white America. Still more of a flex on the part of the filmmakers than anything else, but it’s a flex you can’t help but admire.
4. Sam Smith, Bulls beat writer
The absolute embodiment of the salty old newshound: a little bit crotchety, a lotta bit lovable. Not only does Smith give us some great nuggets in his talking-head segments, but once The Jordan Rules comes out, he actually becomes part of the plot! He couldn’t be any more Chicago if you stuck him in a poppy-seed bun next to some tomatoes, pickle spears, and celery salt.
3. Scottie Pippen, Bulls teammate
Scottie is a welcome presence throughout the series, a humble, good-natured sidekick, with a voice so low I’m surprised I can hear it in my speakers. Just like on the court, his segments make a fine counterpoint to Jordan’s: Scottie is relaxed and easy while Michael is fired-up, aggrieved. And every episode gives us another immortal line: Take your pick between “I didn’t wanna fuck my summer up” and “He was trying to lure me in … so he could take all my money.” The only thing separating Pippen from the No. 1 spot is the documentary’s frequent habit of putting him on the defensive, whether that’s about his delayed surgery, his migraine game, or his self-benching. But at least Scottie’s always been comfortable on that end.
2. Phil Jackson, Bulls coach
A man so Zen he seems to have ascended off this earthly plane completely. There’s no score-settling or lingering resentment from Jackson, just total equanimity. I’ll admit I chuckled at some of the New Age stuff, especially when he somberly mentioned that both he and Rodman were Native American brothers, but by the time he was explaining the Lakota concept of the heyoka, or “backward-walking people,” I had surrendered to Jackson’s charismatic leadership style like everyone else.
1. Deloris Jordan, mother of Michael
For all his gifts, Jackson’s telling us a story we’ve heard many times before. Which is why the top spot goes to someone who’s giving us something new: Deloris Jordan, who seals her Most Valuable Interview Subject title by bringing along something no one else thought of — a prop! In this case, it’s a letter from teenage Michael, through which we get a priceless look at pre-stardom Jordan. (The filmmakers proceed to let us watch Michael watching Deloris read the letter, one of the series’s rare totally human moments from its subject.) For one shining scene, Air Jordan becomes mortal.