The Last Dance premieres soon on ESPN. The 30 for 30 doc looks at the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, which was also Michael Jordan’s last season with the team. That means it’s as good a time as ever to look back at the back catalog of 30 for 30, ESPN’s award-winning sports documentary series.
The best 30 for 30 episodes
1) Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies
The NBA’s defining rivalry forms the basis of one of 30 for 30’s definitive outings. Told over three parts and five hours, the doc is incredibly thorough and has many of the biggest names associated with the rivalry, including Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
2) The Two Escobars
This outstanding doc covers soccer player Andres Escobar and drug lord Pablo Escobar, and how the two men, murdered within a year of each other, shaped and continue to shape the public image of Colombia.
3) June 17th, 1994
One of the most acclaimed 30 for 30s, this portrait covers the surreal summer day where major events in the NBA, NHL, PGA, MLB, and World Cup took a backseat to O.J. Simpson’s car chase. The doc juxtaposes footage from each event to create a compelling snapshot of America.
4) Youngstown Boys
Youngstown Boys examines the collegiate football scandal that brought down a legendary coach and his star player, the Ohio State University coach Jim Tressel and running back Maurice Clarett, but it zooms out enough to unpack larger issues with how the NCAA and NFL conspire to profit off of and use star athletes for their own ends. Youngstown Boys is a must-watch.
5) Without Bias
This was the first truly great 30 for 30, chronicling the death of Len Bias, days after the Celtics took him with the second pick in the 1986 draft. Bias’s death, the result of a cocaine overdose, rocked the league and the city of Boston. It’s a sobering look at what could’ve been and what never was.
6) The U
The high-flying and hard-partying Miami Hurricanes are the subjects of this raucous doc. The 1980s were wild, and the Hurricanes’ players enjoyed every bit of their success. The U offers straightforward, no-frills storytelling, but it doesn’t need to be with subjects this compelling and energetic.
7) Pony Excess
The NCAA’s most severe punishment has been handed out only a few times, most notably to the SMU football program. Pony Excess provides a thrilling look at the delirious highs that precipitated the program’s lowest moment.
8) No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson’s Hall of Fame NBA career almost never happened due to a 1993 incident that resulted in Iverson receiving a 15-year prison sentence. As presented by filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams), No Crossover offers a timeless tale about race and celebrity in America.
9) What Carter Lost
The Friday night lights burn brightest in Texas, and this excellent entry shines a light on every part of Carter High School’s football team in 1988. The team’s wealth of talent overflowed, and on-field success led to off-field notoriety. The team, the school, and the community were all upended when numerous players were arrested for their role in various armed robberies.
10) Elway to Marino
It’s rare for a single NFL draft to produce a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback. The 1983 draft had two in John Elway and Dan Marino. Both players shared an agent in Marvin Demoff, who fortuitously kept a diary of that year’s draft process. Football junkies will get a kick out of this one, while fans of the team that passed on Marino or the ones who didn’t trade up for Elway will be kicking themselves.
11) Fantastic Lies
Director Marina Zenovich strikes a captivating balance between covering the Duke Lacrosse scandal of 2006 and covering the coverage of the case. The intersection of race, privilege, sexual misconduct, media, the law, and court of public opinion combine to make Fantastic Lies a rewarding viewing experience.
12) The Best That Never Was
It doesn’t take an expert to know that college football recruiting is corrupt to high hell. Marcus Dupree is just one of countless stories about a system that eats up young athletes. Dupree, a prodigious talent, went through a wild recruiting process when choosing a college. A combination of injuries and bad advice sapped him of his potential and most of his money. The Best That Never Was is a sobering doc.
13) Run Ricky Run
Ricky Williams is one of the NFL’s greatest enigmas. His talent was off the charts (he led the league in rushing in 2002 and was voted 1st Team All-Pro), but his interests went far beyond football. Run Ricky Run does a great job presenting the different facets of a man trying to reconcile his on-field gifts, which everyone understood, with his mental health issues, which are less clear, even after this intriguing documentary.
14) Requiem for the Big East
As you can tell, this one focuses on the Big East, which dominated college basketball from the conference’s beginnings in 1979 until its dissolution in 2013. Requiem was directed by Ezra Edelman, who would go on to make the single best film to carry the 30 for 30 banner with O.J.: Made in America.
15) Four Falls of Buffalo
No NFL franchise has suffered a combination of success and failure like the Buffalo Bills in the early ‘90s. Four Falls looks at what it took to get to four straight Super Bowls and the ways in which they lost each one. The doc has great access to archival footage and interviewees. If this isn’t a top-tier 30 for 30, it’s just below.
16) Playing for the Mob
The intersection of sports, gambling, and the mob is an irresistible mix, and Playing for the Mob goes all in on that trio. The film covers the point-shaving scandal at Boston College University. One of the key players is Henry Hill, who everyone immediately recognizes from Goodfellas. Directors Joe Lavine and Cayman Grant got the fictional Henry Hill, Ray Liotta, to narrate the doc. Playing is propulsive and great.
17) Hit It Hard
Jon Daly, one of golf’s most colorful characters, goes under the 30 for 30 microscope in this supremely entertaining entry. Daly’s personality and unique story provide the backdrop, and his arc from unknown to winning multiple majors and back down is a gimme for 30 for 30.
18) This Magic Moment
Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal’s brief run together with the Orlando Magic could’ve and should’ve been much more fruitful than it turned out. This Magic Moment does a great job of detailing how a potential juggernaut came together and how it fell apart just as quickly.
19) The Price of Gold
Nannette Burstein’s approach to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan story is straightforward, and The Price of Gold is all the better for it. The doc is thorough, or at least as thorough as it can be with only Harding participating in interviews for it. Still, it’s a fascinating document of a story that gripped the country in the winter of 1994.
20) The U: Part 2
The exuberance of The U comes to a crashing halt in Part 2. The Miami Hurricanes football program’s return to prominence reached its peak in the early 2000s under coach Butch Davis. After Davis left, the success continued under Larry Coker. But the scandals that had been vanquished under Davis returned in full force and brought the program back to Earth. Part 2 isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but it’s still solid.
21) Once Brothers
Sports had a bonding power unlike any other. But the friendship between Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic, two men who played on Yugoslavia’s national team, was torn by the Yugoslav Wars. Tragically, the two never got the chance to reconcile, as Petrovic’s life was cut short by a car accident, a fact Divac struggles to come to terms with in this heartbreaking 30 for 30.
22) Of Miracles and Men
The Miracle on Ice is a top three sporting event in U.S. history, and that story has been covered to death, at least from the perspective of the Americans. Of Miracles and Men flips things and looks at the Soviet Union’s angle.
This is an emotional 30 for 30, similar to the great Without Bias. Ben Wilson was a Chicago basketball phenom who was murdered before graduating high school. Benji reminds us of the talent lost and never realized with Ben’s passing, but also of the social factors that played a role.
24) Rand University
Randy Moss was as dominant a receiver as the NFL has ever seen, and Rand University does his talent and story justice. It’s a straight-forward biography, telling Moss’s story from his upbringing through his NFL career. Moss is a compelling figure, and that helps elevate the run-of-the-mill presentation of Rand University.
25) Mike and the Mad Dog
Among sports talk personalities, Mike Francesca and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo are legends and a once-legendary team. You don’t need to be familiar with the New York-based duo to be entertained by this insightful doc.
26) Straight Outta L.A.
A passion project for director Ice Cube, Straight Outta L.A. ties together the Los Angeles Raiders and the rise of hip-hop (including N.W.A.), and its impact on both cultures. Cube gets great access for a lively doc about an L.A. fan base that is better known now for a blasé attitude.
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert sat down with Hannah Storm for a series of interviews with the two tennis stars about their intense, 80-match rivalry. We should be so lucky to have more of these sessions between legends from all sports. Unmatched covers the on-court dynamic between the two, but it’s the off-court relationship that fuels the doc’s success.
Michael Vick is one of the most important NFL players of the 21st century. His prodigious talent made him appointment viewing on Sundays with the Atlanta Falcons. When his downfall came, it stunned the sports world. After pleading guilty to felony charges for the dog fighting ring he funded and ran, Vick seemed like nothing more than a cautionary tale. Then he returned to the NFL and became a star once again. Vick is a comprehensive look at the complicated career and legacy of Michael Vick and, even though most people know his story, it’s still compelling viewing.
29) When the Garden Was Eden
Die-hard Knicks fan Michael Rapaport directs this lively doc. Between his passion for the Knicks and the great interviews and ‘70s archival footage, When the Garden Was Eden will make you a Knicks’ fan for at least 90 minutes.
30) Survive and Advance
College basketball’s most famous Cinderella team, the 1983 NC State Wolfpack. The team’s run to the March Madness title is thrilling, but the doc gets its strength from the presence of the Wolfpack’s preternaturally thoughtful coach, Jim Valvano.
31) Muhammad and Larry
One of 30 for 30’s strengths is the way the series can hone in on a specific moment and follow the ripples that spread from it. Only once in Muhammad Ali’s career did he not finish a fight, and that bout with Larry Holmes goes under the microscope here. It’s fascinating.
32) The Two Bills
This one plays like catnip for football fans. Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, both considered football geniuses, were too similar to work together for long, and it’s no surprise that their time together was relatively brief. It’s fun looking back at the football and personal relationships between the coaches. At 90 minutes, you’ll wish The Two Bills ran much longer.
33) Chuck & Tito
MMA fans waited a long time for 30 for 30 representation, and Chuck & Tito rewards their patience. Over the course of 90 minutes director Micah Brown tracks the early years and the rise of the UFC through the careers of its two biggest names, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. The doc is pretty comprehensive, and the participation of Liddell and Ortiz is a big part of its success. UFC fans likely know most of this already, but this is worthwhile viewing for casual and less knowledgeable viewers.
34) Brian and the Boz
Director Thaddeus Matula messed around and made a sympathetic figure out of notorious jerk Brian Bosworth, that’s how good this one is. At its best, 30 for 30 makes you question what you know about a topic, and Brian and the Boz is no exception.
35) Catholics vs Convicts
One of college football’s greatest games, the 10/15/88 matchup between Notre Dame and Miami, was dubiously dubbed “Catholics vs Convicts” by some Notre Dame students. Director Patrick Creadon, a Notre Dame alum, provides a first-person account of the game helps give the doc an interesting angle.
36) Chasing Tyson
Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ear is one of the ‘90s most indelible sports events. But that bout, the second of two fights between the two boxers, was the culmination of a larger story. Chasing Tyson is an insightful look at what it took to finally make the fight happened and how it shaped narratives.
37) Into the Wind
Co-directed by Canada’s own Steve Nash, Into the Wind tells the inspiring story of Terry Fox and his battle with osteosarcoma. The cancer took part of Terry’s right leg, but that didn’t stop him from running 30 miles daily to raise money and awareness for cancer research. It’s a touching hagiography for someone who truly deserved it.
38) Nature Boy
Pro wrestling icon Ric Flair gets the 30 for 30 treatment with this gripping doc. The “Nature Boy” certainly lived up to his name, basking in all the fame and attention his success in the squared circle brought him. Flair will hold your attention like a figure-four leglock and keep you entertained all the way through. Whooo!
39) Fernando Nation
Fernando Valenzuela fever hit Los Angeles in the spring of 1981 when Valenzuela took the mound on opening day and captured the heart of the city. While the city and nation happily bought into Valenzuela’s success, many weren’t ready for the cultural reckoning that should’ve accompanied it.
30 for 30 alum Billy Corben looks at examples of athletes who achieved and squandered wealth. It’s a topic that is as sad as it is interesting, and Corben delivers an insightful film. While people may have a hard time relating to athletes blowing through fortunes, the forces that conspire to bring down these athletes (like the featured Andre Rison and Bernie Kosar) provide important and humanizing context. Broke doesn’t hit the highs of Corben’s The U films, but it’s still worth a watch.
41) The ’85 Bears
The ’85 Chicago Bears team is one of the NFL’s most iconic and certainly the most memorable. The ’85 Bears isn’t as memorable as its subject, but it has its moments, including a particularly candid interview with star quarterback Jim McMahon.
42) You Don’t Know Bo
Bo Jackson’s legendary athletic abilities have transformed the man into something of a myth, wherein anything is possible, because Bo could do anything. Aided by archival footage and a new interview with the man himself, Bo is a lively, engaging doc.
43) Doc & Darryl
Superstar talent and superstar partying brought down Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. While the duo led the Mets to a World Series in 1986, the two men couldn’t get out of their own way and soon became cautionary tales. Despite a big name co-director in Judd Apatow, the candidness of Darryl and Doc makes this a must-see doc
44) Kings Ransom
30 for 30 kicked off with this story about the trade that brought Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. It was a landscape-altering move for the Great One that helped shape the story of hockey’s biggest star. Kings Ransom makes for a fine opening salvo.
45) Small Potatoes
The upstart United States Football League ran for three seasons in the mid-’80s before closing up shop. Small Potatoes covers the short life of the league and features a centerpiece interview with one of the men who helped sink the league, Donald Trump. It’s a solid doc, but the interview with the future president is the definite highlight.
46) Ghosts of Ole Miss
Set at the University of Mississippi in 1962, Ghosts documents the campus and communities attempts to reconcile racial violence stemming from integration and the football team’s unbeaten season. That push and pull continues to be a major tenant of life in the South.
Corruption and the Olympics go hand in hand, and scrutiny is now the norm. The focus of this one is the 1988 Summer Olympics men’s 100m final, which ended with a world record set by Ben Johnson. His record was vacated after a failed drug test, and the gold medal was awarded to Carl Lewis, who faced his own doping allegations. 9.79* is informative, and director Daniel Gordon gets a must-see interview with Lewis.
48) The Band That Wouldn’t Die
A literal case of “the beat goes on,” this entry focuses on Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. Left behind when the Baltimore Colts left for Indianapolis, the band stayed behind, playing whatever gigs they could until the NFL returned to Charm City.
49) This Is What They Want
Jimmy Connors’s story has been overshadowed by other tennis legends over the years, but Connors is a legend in his own right. He had a long and fruitful career, but his most memorable story happened near the end of his professional run. This doc, directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, covers Connors’s run in the 1991 U.S. Open, where he started as a wild card and ended in the semifinals.
50) The Last Days of Knight
Bobby Knight is infamous for his almost 30-year tenure at Indiana University. It all ended when Knight, known for his fiery personality, was fired for mistreating players. Knight is one of college basketball’s biggest names, and The Last Days of Knight doesn’t quite do the story justice.
51) Brothers in Exile
Half-brothers Livan and Orlando Hernandez came from Cuba to the U.S. to chase their baseball dreams. Both men pitched with their way to World Series titles. The strength of Brothers in Exile comes from the attention paid to the journey the brothers took to get where they ended up.
52) Little Big Men
Everyone loves an underdog story, and Little Big Men has a good one. The 1982 Kirkland National Little League team won the Little League World Series over the heavily favored team from Taiwan. Little Big Men is a feel-good story, one that gets the job done but could’ve been better.
53) The Day the Series Stopped
Time stopped, and shook, on Oct. 17, 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. The Day the Series Stopped takes viewers through the event and aftermath from multiple perspectives, creating a kaleidoscopic portrait of that.
Junior Seau’s death by suicide in 2012 is one of the most shocking sports stories of the last 20 years. He’s one of the NFL’s legends, and his unique path to professional glory helped him stand out in a league full of standouts. Seau is an ordinary doc about an extraordinary athlete.
55) Silly Little Game
Fantasy sports is big business now, but in 1980, it was a silly little game that stat nerds played with their friends. Anyone who has ever gone through a snake draft or spent hours doing a draft auction will see a bit of themselves here.
56) Phi Slama Jama
This one pairs nicely with Survive and Advance to create a full picture of the 1983 NCAA Championship game between the NC State Wolfpack and the Houston Cougars. Phi Slama Jama is the weaker half of this duo, but it’s still a fun watch, befitting the team at its center.
57) One and Not Done
Coach John Calipari’s reputation for success and controversy gives this one its edge. The doc is fast-paced and focuses mostly on Coach Cal’s run with the 2015-16 Kentucky Wildcats. One and Not Done doesn’t dig as deep as hoops fans may want, but the snappy pace makes this one a fun, if insignificant, entry.
58) Rodman: For Better or Worse
Dennis Rodman is one of the biggest personalities in sports history. Between all the tattoos, piercings, and colorful hair, and his undeniable skills on the court, Rodman’s brash personality helped him break through the zeitgeist. There is a lot of material to cover with The Worm, and the depth of the doc is its biggest strength. Rodman is as enigmatic a person as the NBA has seen, and For Better or Worse captures that well.
59) Slaying the Badger
This one takes viewers back to the 1986 Tour de France to look at the rivalry between American Greg LeMond and French Bernard Hinault. Despite being teammates for the tour, the two men battled for top billing. Cycling is still a niche sport in the U.S., so it’s fun to take a closer look at one of the world’s top sporting events.
60) The 16th Man
Set in the early stages of post-apartheid South Africa, The 16th Man covers the nation’s 1995 run in the Rugby World Cup. Focusing on the sociological ramifications of the team’s run, which was supported by Nelson Mandela, this meat-and-potatoes documentary functions best as a primer on the topic.
61) Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau
Professional surfer (Sam George) tells the story of surf legend Eddie Aikau, who left an indelible mark on surfing and represented something larger for the Hawaiian community. As Honolulu’s first official lifeguard, Aikau is credited with saving over 500 people. His own life was cut short at age 32, but his memory lives on, and Hawaiian does him justice.
62) Guru of Go
Paul Westhead’s career as a basketball coach is littered with success at every level and league you can think of. He was an innovator, whose run-and-gun offensive scheme gave opponents fits. Guru of Go focuses on Westhead’s 1985-90 stint as coach of Loyola Marymount University’s basketball team, which reached unbelievable heights (numerous NCAA tournament runs) and unimaginable lows (star player Hank Gathers died on court in 1990).
63) Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks
This one is more of a fluff piece, but an entertaining one nevertheless. The beef between Pacers’ star Reggie Miller and the Knicks (and super fan Spike Lee) was supremely entertaining when it happened in the mid-90s, and reliving it is still amusing.
64) I Hate Christian Laettner
Everyone loves to hate Duke, and Christian Laettner embodies that sentiment. Best known for hitting the classic buzz-beating shot that lifted Duke over Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, Laettner embraced his role as a villain. I Hate Christian Laettner is a fun, if inconsequential, watch that challenges the stereotypes you probably have about the oft-overlooked Dream Team member.
Before Danica Patrick, there was Janet Guthrie, the first woman to qualify for and compete in the Indianapolis 500. Even though Guthrie’s story takes place in the 19070s, Qualified features an impressive amount of archival race footage. Director Jenna Ricker pairs that footage with Guthrie’s narration and the result is absorbing and compelling. The story of Guthrie’s success in an arena dominated with men proves to be, unsurprisingly, very relevant to modern times.
66) Year of the Scab
When NFL players went on strike in 1987, Washington was the only team that had zero players cross the picket line. The team went 3-0 with replacement players, and those wins helped propel the team to a Super Bowl victory. Despite that, the scab players are still looked down on by the organization all these years later. It’s an interesting story, but a middle-of-the-pack documentary.
67) The Birth of Big Air
A generation that grew up with X-Games, Tony Hawk on PlayStation, and Jackass, will be familiar with BMX legend Matt Hoffman. Directed by Jeff Tremaine (who co-created Jackass, which Hoffman appeared on), The Birth of Big Air is a straightforward profile of Hoffman and a straightforward doc that will appeal to any fan of extreme sports.
68) The Prince of Pennsylvania
The tragic relationship between millionaire John DuPont and brothers Mark and Dave Schultz, which ended with DuPont murdering Dave, is the subject of the Oscar-nominated film Foxcatcher. The Prince of Pennsylvania tells the same story in documentary form. Prince isn’t as good as Foxcatcher, but the story is worthy of more coverage.
69) The Good, The Bad, The Hungry
The Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest is an amusing, but extremely niche, topic for 30 for 30. Such specificity can lead to something truly unique and insightful, or it can feel like a novelty. This one is more of the latter. At the heart of the story is the rivalry between Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut. Well, rivalry is a bit of a stretch. Kobayashi was the face of competitive eating until Chestnut hit the scene and has dominated it for the last decade. The Good, The Bad, The Hungry is amusing enough, but is hardly essential.
70) No Más
The brief boxing rivalry between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran only lasted two fights.It would’ve been a historical afterthought had Duran not quit in the middle of their second fight by saying “no más.” No Más does an acceptable job covering the two fighters and the fight itself, but it feels like we’re just scratching the surface here.
71) Bad Boys
The Detroit Pistons of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s were the trouble-making little brother of the NBA. They were brash, tough, and didn’t settle for beating a team when they could beat them down. Their story gets the usual rise-and-fall narrative, and while the team deserves an edgier film, this one will do.
72) The House of Steinbrenner
George Steinbrenner is one of, if not the most, iconic owners in all of American sports. His hands-on approach to handling the New York Yankees upset the apple cart a bit, and The House of Steinbrenner does a fine job of taking sports fans past the history they already know.
73) Tim Richmond: To the Limit
Tim Richmond’s life and NASCAR career were cut short by AIDS in 1989. Richmond had a contentious relationship with NASCAR, but To the Limit is frustrating light on conflict and favors a softball approach that does Richmond something of a disservice.
74) The Dominican Dream
Director Jonathan Hock returns to the 30 for 30fold with this documentary about basketball phenom and Dominican legend Felipe Lopez. The Dominican Dream is another 30 for 30 about talent that was never fully realized. Lopez, despite having the skills on the court, could not overcome the other aspects of being a professional ball player. The Dominican Dream is a solid doc, even if it leaves you wanting a little more.
75) Trojan War
USC’s run under coach Pete Carroll in the 2000s was so much fun to watch as it happened. As most college sports stories go, that run ended in ignominy. Trojan War spends most of its time on the program’s highs, with plenty of archival footage, and is at its best when it’s playing the hits. But as a historical document, there are too many holes and omissions in the story to make this anything other than a fun diversion.
76) George Best: All By Himself
Director Daniel Gordon’s look at soccer legend George Best’s is a downer. That’s not to say it’s bad; it’s not. But with its bloated runtime and depressing subject (Best drank himself off the pitch before he turned 30), George Best is a slog to get through.
Sports and sports media has had a rocky time covering HIV/AIDS. Just consider the plight of boxing heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison. It’s an important topic, and Morrison is an interesting subject, but this one isn’t quite as strong as the Magic Johnson entry The Announcement (which aired under the ESPN Films Presents banner).
78) Four Days in October
The Red Sox historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ACLS to beat the Yankees is one of the defining sports events of the 21st century. It’s certainly a worthy subject, but Four Days in October offers a fairly generic presentation.
79) 42 to 1
The main reason to watch 42 to 1 is for the archival footage. Unless you’re a diehard boxing fan, you probably haven’t seen many older fights, so getting a chance to see Buster Douglas and especially Mike Tyson is a treat. It all leads to Douglas, whom odds makers had as a heavy 42-1 underdog, knocking out the previously undefeated Tyson.
80) Marion Jones: Press Pause
Marion Jones reached the highest of heights as a track star, winning gold at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. Her fall was complete by 2007, when Jones admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs and was subsequently stripped of her Olympic medals and sentenced to prison.
Cleveland is one of America’s great fan bases, and unfortunately, their history is marked by disappointment after disappointment. Believeland covers the city’s 50-year championship drought that ended a month after Believeland originally aired (the ending was amended to include footage of the Cavs’ 2016 NBA title).
82) The Gospel According to Mac
This doc balances the two major tenants of Bill McCartney’s life, football and faith. McCartney made the Colorado Buffaloes into a powerhouse in the ‘90s and founded the men’s ministry Promise Keepers. The Gospel softballs McCartney’s less noble traits (including his anti-gay and anti-feminist beliefs), leaving the doc with plenty to be desired.
83) Big Shot
John Spano lived his dream for four months in 1996 when he conned his way into being the owner of the New York Islanders. It’s amusing watching Spano squirm and string people along, and Spano is refreshingly lacking in remorse for his actions. Big Shot may not be particularly good, but it’s never boring.
84) Bernie and Ernie
Teammates Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld shared a remarkable friendship over four decades. Their successes on and off the court are well-documented, but the doc soft-shoes around some of the thornier material. It’s a well-meaning doc but a bit flavorless.
85) The Legend of Jimmy the Greek
Jimmy the Greek had a long run as one of America’s best-known bookmakers. His success led to a job on CBS’ The NFL Today, until disparaging racial comments ended his 12-year run on the show. Jimmy the Greek is synonymous with NFL betting, and anyone who’s ever put down a few bucks will be entertained by his story.
86) Angry Sky
Director Jeff Tremaine (of Jackass fame) returns for his second 30 for 30, this time covering the life of Nick Piantanida, who made a name for himself as a skydiver and parachutist. He set the record for balloon altitude by reaching 23 miles above the earth, a record that stood for 36 years. Angry Sky features thrilling coverage of some of Nick’s jumps, but the buildup lags.
87) Free Spirits
Free Spirits charts the two-year lifespan of the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis basketball team, whose run was snuffed out by the ABA-NBA merger. Director Daniel Forer is content to let the good times roll, and the doc mainly focused on the team’s lack of discipline. It’s an amusing story, but Free Spirits is too uninquisitive to be essential.
88) This Was the XFL
The XFL was destined to flame out in spectacular fashion. That it happened after one season also seemed fated. This entry functions more like a curio than anything else, offering the backstory that most people weren’t asking for. At least it’s amusing. Like the league itself, This Was the XFL is like a blip on the 30 for 30 radar.
89) Jordan Rides the Bus
This one feels slight compared to the harder-hitting installments in the series, but Jordan Rides the Bus has its moments. That the greatest basketball player of all time chose to honor his father by pursuing professional baseball at the peak of his career is inherently touching, but like Jordan’s baseball stint, this doc leaves you wanting more.
90) There’s No Place Like Home
This one is for the Kansas Jayhawks fans more than anyone else. It’s about one enthusiastic fan’s attempt to buy the original rules of basketball, as written by the game’s founder and Jayhawks’ coach James Naismith, and return the document to the University. There’s No Place Like Home is one of the more frivolous entries in the series, one that’s probably best left to the diehards.
91) Deion’s Double Play
This story should’ve been relegated to a 30 for 30 short or a podcast. The historic feat of Deion Sanders playing an NFL game for the Atlanta Falcons in-between a pair of postseason games for the Atlanta Braves in October 1992 makes for a fun story, but it doesn’t amount to much more than a trivia question.
92) Sole Man
This is a baseline episode of 30 for 30. The subject is Sonny Vaccaro who made his mark on basketball via his work with Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. Vaccaro’s story is interesting, but Sole Man is kind of a bland documentary.
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