Chasing Tyson is an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Evander Holyfield’s quest for glory and respect, and more importantly, to escape being stuck in Mike Tyson’s shadow. Holyfield was one of the greatest boxers of all time. He clawed his way up the boxing ranks and gradually became the only four-time heavyweight champion of the world, but he’s still best remembered for being the guy that Mike Tyson bit.
The documentary follows the two boxers as their careers unfold. Mike Tyson was a superstar, knocking people out quickly and brutally. He was crazy and dangerous and the media loved him for it. He transcended boxing. Evander Holyfield was the exact opposite. He was quiet, calm, and unassuming. He didn’t have explosive knockout power, but he had heart and the skill necessary to beat Tyson yet nobody believed that he stood a chance against him.
Holyfield did everything he could to prove himself as worthy opponent to Tyson. He beat everyone that Tyson beat, and that still wasn’t enough. The only way to prove that he was better than Tyson was to beat Tyson. Their long awaited fight was delayed for years while Mike Tyson served time in prison, and the two fighters were well past their prime when they finally met in the ring.
Mike Tyson will always be one of the most remembered and discussed boxers in history. Holyfield will be remembered as well, but mostly because he was linked to Tyson. Holyfield worked longer, harder, and deserves more recognition and respect. He’s never going to get it. Life’s not fair. Just ask Evander Holyfield.
The Birth of Big Air is a 2010 documentary about professional BMX star Mat Hoffman. It’s directed by Jeff Tremaine and produced by Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. You might recognize Jeff Tremaine, Spike Jonze, and Johnny Knoxville from their work on MTV’s Jackass. All three of them were so impressed with Hoffman’s badassery that they decided to make a movie about him. Hoffman was a pioneer in the sport. He was always creating new tricks, getting more and more big air, and pushing the sport into the mainstream. He partially saved the sport in the early ‘90s when sponsors and contests dried up. He created his own company, organized his own events, and kept on developing new tricks. He wasn’t doing it for money. He was doing it for himself.
The filmmakers stress that Hoffman is more than an athlete. He is a gladiator. He punishes his body. He’s broken practically all his bones, he ruptured his spleen, he’s been in a couple of comas, and he’s almost died several times. But he always gets back up and gets back on his bike. It’s what he does. It’s who he is. Along the way he inspired thousands of kids to get on a bike and go outside.
The documentary explores Hoffman’s influence on BMX and the X Games lifestyle. He was building his own megaramps years and getting twenty feet of air years before anyone else was brave enough to try it. He showed people that it was possible. He paved the way for the spectacle that the X Games have become. Mat Hoffman is a different breed of human. If Charlie Sheen has tiger blood, Mat Hoffman has liger blood. And yes, I just referenced Charlie Sheen’s #Winning phase and Napoleon Dynamite.
Straight Outta L.A. is an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary directed and narrated by Ice Cube. It’s about the Los Angeles Raiders and the rise of gangster rap in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. This was a tumultuous time in L.A. The crack epidemic was going on, police brutality was common, gangs and violence were rampant. The Raiders were a team that was a little rough around the edges and played a little dirty, but they won games and the city of Los Angeles quickly adopted them as their own. Among those fans was a young Ice Cube and the other founding members of NWA. They were pioneers in hip-hop and brought a new, raw style of rapping that came to be called gangster rap.
Ice Cube and the rest of NWA chose to use Raiders gear as part as their image. The iconic pirate logo and powerful silver and black colors became synonymous with gangster rap, and the two became linked for better or for worse. Ice Cube’s film features interviews with Raiders legends like Al Davis, Howie Long, and Marcus Allen as well as hip-hop legends like Ice T and Snoop Dogg to tell the story of how the Raiders influenced rap music and a city, changing the world in the process.
I know a few Raiders fans. I respect them a lot more after watching this documentary.
Survive and Advance is a documentary that was released as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. I can’t get enough of the 30 for 30 documentaries. There are so many great stories in sports, and it seems like ESPN is out to cover them all. This documentary is about the 1983 NC State Wolfpack winning nine elimination games in a row on their way to capturing the national championship in a spectacular upset. Derek Whittenberg threw up a shot in the closing seconds out of pure desperation. The ball was a little bit offline, but Lorenzo Charles was there to snatch the ball out of the air and slam it through the net with a second left on the clock. It was a great play to end the game, and it was further immortalized when coach Jim Valvano ran out onto the court in celebration and couldn’t find anybody to hug. Even non-sports fans can appreciate an underdog story, and it doesn’t get much more underdog than this.
Director Jonathan Hock does a marvelous job introducing up to the NC State Wolfpack players and their charismatic coach. Jim Valvano seemed more like an entertainer than a coach, but he had the skills and vision to lead the Wolfpack to an unlikely victory. And then another one. And another one. And even more after that. The Wolfpack survived nine elimination games, seven of which they were losing with a minute left to play. They were able to beat the top ranked college teams, defeating legendary players like Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Clyde Drexler, and Akeem Olajuwon. Check it out if you can. It’s inspirational, motivational, and well worth watching.
Jordan Rides the Bus is another entry in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. It’s an interesting documentary that explores what happened when NBA legend Michael Jordan retired from basketball at the height of his popularity to give professional baseball a shot. Director Ron Shelton examines the reasons why Michael left one game for another and shows the struggles and triumphs of Michael’s stint in the Minor Leagues. Basically he stinks in the beginning, puts a lot of effort into getting better, he improves a little bit, and then he went back to playing in the NBA. Sorry for the spoilers but you should already know that.
Michael Jordan has been considered the best basketball player of all time and his attempt at playing baseball has often been considered a punchline. This documentary makes you realize that it wasn’t a joke. The guy really wanted to be a baseball player. He sucked but that’s beside the point. The point is that he tried. He doesn’t regret anything in the end. His time in the bush league took him from the top of the pedestal to the bottom, he learned some humility, and he became a better person and teammate when he triumphantly returned to the NBA.
October 17th was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake and the San Francisco Giants are in the World Series again, so it only seems fitting to talk about ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary The Day The Series Stopped. Director Ryan Fleck takes you back to the unforgettable 1989 earthquake that rocked the Bay Area just prior to the World Series Game 3 between the A’s and the Giants. It’s not the best documentary about the Loma Prieta earthquake, but it’s definitely the most sports-focused one.
The documentary begins by exploring the rivalry between the two teams and cities and setting up the atmosphere of the Bay Area at the time. You meet the important players and coaches and characters from each team. You meet a few fans and what their teams mean to them. Fleck does a great job of setting you up for the moment that changed everything. At 5:04 p.m. the ground started to shake as 6.9 magnitude quake roared to life. You experience the quake through the eyes of the players, coaches, broadcasters, and fans in the stadium that day.
At first they are shaken, then relieved, then they want the game to start. But soon they start to hear reports of all the widespread damage and chaos and the scope of the tragedy starts to set in. Baseball takes a backseat to Mother Nature any day of the week. The documentary explores the eyewitness accounts of fans, players, and coaches and even delves into the science of earthquakes. It shows the healing power of sports through escapism. It’s emotional, educational, and entertaining. It’s not the best 30 for 30 documentary but it’s one of my favorites. Although, I’m a little bit biased because I experienced the quake myself and my parents were at that game. It’s worth watching.
Marcus Dupree had it all in the early ‘80s. He was one of the best young football players in the country with the skills and flair needed to become a superstar. The Best That Never Was tells the true story of how he could have been a household name until he squandered it away. Director Jonathan Hock’s ESPN 30 for 30 documentary explores Dupree’s incredible football career through a mixture of interviews and film footage. You see how he grew up and developed a talent for football, how he harnessed that power and became a high school phenom, how the colleges came calling, how the cockroaches came out and exploited him, and how injuries and immaturity caused his career to tailspin until he ended up as forty-six year-old truck driver watching highlight reels of his glory days with a tear in his eye.
It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of professional sports and how the lure of fame and money can destroy talent. It’s riveting. Dupree ultimately finds some redemption, but he knows that he made a lot of mistakes in his life. He has a lot of regrets, understandably so. There are a lot of good entries in the 30 for 30 series and this is one of the better ones. I highly recommend it. Watch it below if you have a couple of hours to kill.
Broke is documentary that explores the reasons how so many professional athletes squander their money and end up declaring bankruptcy. It was the premiere episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 Volume II, and was directed by Billy Corben. Various athletes from the MLB, NBA, and NFL give interviews and provide insight about how they wasted their millions of dollars. They buy mansions, luxury cars, and outrageous jewelry. They pay child support and huge divorce settlements. They loan money to family and friends and never get paid back. They gamble and make it rain at strip clubs. They get hurt and injured and never see that big paycheck. They are forced to retire by age thirty-three and have no work experience to get a real job. They don’t know how to save, they make bad investments, and they get swindled.
Broke is an interesting documentary because sports stars become icons, they become heroes and it’s fascinating to see your heroes lying in the gutter. Sad, yes. Tragic, yes. But definitely fascinating. You realize how easy it is to waste a fortune. Some of them lost their fortunes because of bad luck and bad circumstances. But most of them lost their money out of sheer arrogance and stupidity. And all of them have an interesting tale. Check it out, I watched it on YouTube and you can too.
Four Days in October is one of the many documentaries in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. It focuses on the Boston Red Sox during their improbable comeback in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. As you might recall, the Red Sox were down three games to none in a best of seven series. The Red Sox were playing their hated rivals for a chance to go to the World Series and break the “The Curse” once and for all. But no team had ever come back from a three game deficit, and one more loss would mean the end of the season. It looked like the Yankees had it in the bag.
But there’s one thing that separates baseball from most other sports: there is no clock. You have to play to the last out. It sounds cliché, but it’s really not over until it’s over. Positive attitudes, clutch performances, and key hits kept the Red Sox alive. They proceeded to win the next four games in spectacular fashion, inspiring a nation along the way. Those four days in October gave baseball fans some of the most memorable moments in MLB Playoff history: Kevin Millar and his motivational pep talks, Curt Schilling and his bloody sock, Dave Roberts and his game-shifting steal, and the invincible bat of David Ortiz are just a few that stand out.
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate this documentary, but it certainly helps. It also helps if you hate the Yankees. Four Days in October does a good job of capturing the excitement and energy happening in the Red Sox dugout and locker room. You can tell the players know that they are in the middle of something special. They know that destiny is on their side; they just have to enjoy the ride.
Once Brothers is an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Vlade Divac and Dražen Petrović, two basketball players from Yugoslavia that were among the first Europeans to break into the NBA. They were close friends and teammates playing together on the Yugoslavia national basketball team. The film follows Vlade Divac’s journey of making the national basketball team, his friendship with star player Dražen Petrović, and their transition into the NBA. But then the Yugoslav war tears the two apart. If you paid attention in school, you might recall that the Yugoslav Wars, in which Yugoslavia broke up into different countries due to massive ethnic conflicts between different reasons. Vlade was from Serbia, Dražen was from Croatia, and that’s not a good mix. Plus one time Vlade disrespected the Croatian flag, and that pretty much ended their friendship. And they never got to make amends because Dražen went and got himself killed in a car accident. This is a great documentary about how politics, the real world, and sports impact each other. It makes you appreciate the past, but you can’t help but wonder what could have been.