Pygmy Reviews #40 – Sports Documentaries

The Dream Team

One Line Description: A look at the first Dream Team, the 1992 men’s Olympic basketball team

Although there were many imitations later, there is and was only one true Dream Team. The 1992 version featured 11 (!!!) Hall of Famers (and Christian Laettner). It was coached by three more Hall of Famers. Even though Bird and Magic were past their prime, they could still bring it, and most of the rest of the guys were at, or around, their peaks. This was a great documentary that showed how the team came to be, how all the egos and personalities went together and some of what they experienced along the way. It also has the first footage of the legendary scrimmage where Jordan and Magic just went at each other. This is a must see for anyone who is remotely a basketball fan.

Price of Gold

One Line Description: Tonya Harding’s rise, fall and involvement in the assault on Nancy Kerrigan

Pretty much everyone knows a version of the story. Bitter Tonya Harding has Nancy Kerrigan kneecapped before the 1994 Olympics so she can make the team and strive for a gold medal. This documentary is told almost completely from the perspective of Harding. It builds her up as this underdog who had a tough go of it, and it seems to attempt to paint her as someone who was a victim in all of this. But in the end she comes off bitter and not remorseful. She claims to have not been involved in the planning, which most people probably didn’t realize. Kerrigan declined to participate but it is unlikely she could have added much. Most of the people involved seemed pro-Harding, but she herself didn’t do any favors for her reputation. This was a great retelling of something that happened 20 years ago that most people have probably forgotten the details of. This is one of the many stories that would have exploded social media if it happened today.

This is What They Want

One Line Description: Jimmy Connors makes one final run at the 1991 US Open

Jimmy Connors was a darn good tennis players in the ’70s and ‘80s. He is still first all-time in ATP career tournament titles. He won a bunch of US Opens and was a charismatic competitor. John McEnroe was know for his tirades, but Connors was right there with him and was far more ruthless in other ways. This documentary showed an unabashed Connors as the gunslinger he was. The main focus of the film is Connors’ unexpected run at the 1991 US Open in which he made it to the semifinals with several amazing comebacks. During this run, he essentially derailed the career of up-and-coming American Aaron Krickstein. It was an incredible run that is mostly forgotten at this point because Connors failed to win the tournament. But those who are old enough to have seem Connors peak in the ’70s and ’80s probably remember this vividly. It probably takes at least a casual tennis fan to enjoy this one, but for anyone that is, this will be an enjoyable time.

Survive and Advance

One Line Description: The story of Jim Valvano’s Cinderella 1983 basketball team’s run to the NCAA Championship

Jim Valvano is known for two things, coaching his team to a massive upset in the 1983 championship, and an incredible speech he gave at the 1993 ESPY awards shortly before his death from cancer. This is one of the best 30 for 30 documentaries they have done. It is told mostly from the perspective of Dereck Whittenberg, a senior guard on that team. It did a wonderful job of meshing the 1983 run with Valvano’s later speeches and moments. For people who only knew about the championship game and the ESPY speech, this was a great look at Valvano and how he got there. But the focus was mostly on that 1983 season and the improbable run, and amazing final play to win it all. Valvano never really had success after that, and got into trouble before resigning from NC State, but this is truly a great story to see. Any sports fan should see this one. Simply great.

Big Shot

One Line Description: The story of a phony billionaire who tried to buy the New York Islanders in the mid ’90s.

This was a story that I was pretty much completely unfamiliar with. I am sure I was aware of it at some point but it never stuck. It’s one of the many stories that would have been amazing to see unfold on social media in the current generation. Of course, in the full internet age it’s hard to see this ever happening again. It was remarkable how John Spano lied and made up stuff in his attempt to buy the New York Islanders. The best part of this document is that director Kevin Connolly1 got Spano to sit down and talk about it. This guy was a total scumbag, as demonstrated by the end of the film tags that show what he did after he got out of jail. But this is a remarkable story about a forgotten franchise. Connolly narrates most of it, and unfortunately it doesn’t work, as something about the tone of his voice just takes away from the film. There is very little hockey in this one so it should appeal to a bigger audience. The story is so unique that it’s worth checking out for almost any sports fan. Very enjoyable.

  1. Yes, from Entourage []