The scope of access granted to Thompson and his crew was rare in those days, even in the media-friendly N.B.A. That was especially true with Jordan, who stunningly retired for the first time in September 1993 at age 30, in his prime, in part to get away from the relentless media spotlight trained on “the No. 1 sports team in the world,” as former N.B.A. commissioner David Stern described the Bulls in the first episode of the documentary.
By the time Jordan returned to the Bulls in March 1995, his global celebrity was boundless. Even with fewer news media covering the league then, seemingly only NBC’s Ahmad Rashad, the former Pro Bowl wide receiver and Jordan’s close friend, had the license to stray beyond typical media boundaries with the Bulls.
Inspired by the 1987 documentary “The Boys on the Bus,” about the N.H.L.’s Edmonton Oilers, Thompson tried to change that entering the 1997-98 season, after an executive named Adam Silver took over as president of N.B.A. Entertainment. Thompson suggested to Silver, the future commissioner, that the league assign a full-time crew to the Bulls before Chicago’s management disassembled the team.
“Just for history purposes,” Thompson said. “I didn’t even mention ‘documentary.’”
During the Bulls’ preseason trip to Paris, Silver persuaded Chicago’s power brokers, most notably Jordan, to let the cameras in. Jordan was assured he would have a say in how much of what was recorded would be released to the public. He was also sold on the idea by Silver, as Thompson recalled, that he would at worst come away with “the greatest collection of home movies you can show your kids” if the project was abandoned.
“I knew that it was never going to be shown until Michael decided he was ready,” Rashad said. “As time went by, I think Michael just figured out in the last couple years, it’s time for this stuff to come out.”
All these years later, Thompson is convinced that the comfort level his N.B.A. Entertainment crew gradually reached with Jordan and that Bulls team required a considerable assist from Rashad. The first time Thompson met Jordan, during the 1990-91 season, he was Rashad’s field producer for a new NBC show, “N.B.A. Inside Stuff.” After introductions, they soon learned Jordan had been a fan of Thompson’s older brother in his youth; Jordan revealed he was once scolded by his mother for spelling his name “Mychal” on a school notebook.
“He goes on and tells the story about how he loved Mychal as a kid and he wanted to emulate him because he thought he was cool, the way he spelled his name, and he wore these puka shell beads around his neck,” Andy Thompson said of Jordan.