I wouldn’t consider myself a sports fanatic by any means (well, our Detroit Lions have won two games in a row – one a historic game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field – so I’m more of a sports fanatic than I was two weeks ago!), but I love the ESPN series “30 for 30,” because it’s really all about the human element in sports.
It’s the same reason I absolutely LOVE theatrical sports movies – the whole underdog theme, the struggle to make it to the top, the storyline coming down to that one “big game”… I always leave the theater determined to set amazing goals and just go for it.
The idea for the “30 for 30” series began with ESPN.com columnist and Grantland.com founder Bill Simmons, who wanted feature filmmakers to recount the sports stories, people, and events in which they took a personal interest, however great or small. He wanted to tell stories that he felt hadn’t been fully explored. And as you might imagine, there are a lot of those stories out there.
“30 for 30” Volume 2 hits store and cyber-shelves tomorrow, Nov. 24, and includes all 30 films from the season in one complete set on 12 DVDs. It’s the perfect gift for not just the sports lovers on your holiday gift list, but anyone who loves stories about people.
Probably my favorite of these films is “Bad Boys,” because it follows the story of Michigan’s beloved Detroit Pistons. We watched all those games (on TV – we’re five hours north of Detroit in Traverse City), and it just brought new energy to Michigan, in general. Also, one of those boys, Vinnie Johnson (“The Microwave”), recently bought some property that my family had for sale here in Traverse City, so I’m just one degree away from the Pistons.
Let’s take a closer look at the films in this amazing set:
Broke (Dir. Billy Corben). Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders and saddled with medical problems, most pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life. Drawing surprisingly vulnerable confessions from retired stars, this fascinating documentary from Billy Corben (The U, Cocaine Cowboys) digs into the psychology of men whose competitive nature carries them to victory on the field and ruin off it. Run Time: 79 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
9.79* (Dir. Daniel Gordon). The 100-meter men’s final at the 1988 Seoul Games was the fastest and perhaps most thrilling sprint in Olympic history. But within 48 hours, gold medalist Ben Johnson had tested positive for anabolic steroids and scandal reigned. This one race became the world’s wake-up call to drugs in sports, forcing us to question what we expect from our athletes as they pursue records in the name of national pride. It still haunts the eight men who took part. 2012 Toronto International Film Festival Selection. Run Time: 79 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
There’s No Place Like Home (Dirs. Maura Mandt & Josh Swade). When University of Kansas superfan Josh Swade discovers Dr. James Naismith’s original rules of basketball will be auctioned on December 10, 2010, he embarks upon an ambitious goal: to raise more than $1 million in three weeks.
Follow his fanatical quest to win this seminal American artifact and bring the rules “back home” to the University of Kansas. Run Time: 59 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Benji (Dirs. Coodie & Chike). In 1984, 17-year-old Benjamin “Benji” Wilson Jr. was the first high school player in Chicago’s history to be ranked as the nation’s number one recruit. The day before his senior season, his life was abruptly and tragically cut short, sending ripples through the city and the country. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Ghosts of Ole Miss (Dir. Fritz Mitchell). In the fall of 1962, James Meredith walked onto the University of Mississippi campus and integrated the school under order and protection of the federal government. That same fall, the Ole Miss football team was in the midst of its only perfect season in school history. Run Time: 51 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
You Don’t Know Bo (Dir. Michael Bonfiglio). “There are stars and there are superstars. And then there’s Bo Jackson.” During the 1980s and 1990s, Bo Jackson hit 500-foot home runs and ran over linebackers, becoming a cultural icon and one of the most famous athletes of all time. Run Time: 76 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Survive and Advance (Dir. Jonathan Hock). Survive & Advance chronicles the unforgettable story of the 1982–1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack and their improbable run to the NCAA Championship. Told through the eyes of senior captain Dereck Whittenburg, the film takes a poignant look at Jim Valvano and his remarkable impact. Run Time: 101 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Elway to Marino (Dir. Ken Rodgers & NFL Films). In 1983, six quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the draft – still the most ever. Elway to Marino gives you an insider’s seat at this landmark draft through the eyes of the players, head coaches, general managers, team owners and agents who participated. Pick by pick, agent Marvin Demoff (represented both John Elway and Dan Marino) walks you through the months leading up to the most dramatic draft day in NFL history. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau (Dir. Sam George). “Eddie Would Go.” The phrase has long carried deep meaning with countless Hawaiians and surfers worldwide. Explore the remarkable life and power of Eddie Aikau, the legendary Hawaiian big wave surfer and native son whose dynamic life and heroic death served as inspiration to an entire spiritual movement. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Free Spirits (Dir. Daniel H. Forer). The American Basketball Association (ABA) included a cast of colorful characters, featuring stars like Marvin “Bad News” Barnes and James “Fly” Williams, along with an upstart sportscaster named Bob Costas calling the play-by-play. Director Daniel H. Forer chronicles the Spirit of St Louis’ two years in the league and the ABA’s eventual merger with the NBA. Run Time: 51 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
No Mas (Dir. Eric Drath). In the midst of boxing’s contemporary golden age stood two fighters who established a captivating rivalry. Sugar Ray Leonard, who had become a household name after a Gold Medal-winning performance at the 1976 Summer Olympics, versus Roberto Duran, the toughest — some said meanest — fighter of all time. Their pair of bouts within a span of just over 5 months in 1980 had all the trappings of instant classics. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Big Shot (Dir. Kevin Connolly). In 1996, the once-dominant New York Islanders were in serious trouble. Then along came a Dallas businessman named John Spano, who swooped in and agreed to buy the team for $165 million. But it was all smoke and mirrors. Featuring the only interview Spano has ever given about the Islanders deal, director Kevin Connolly (Entourage) goes inside this extraordinary scandal of an oversized dream that became a lie. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
This Is What They Want (Dirs. Brian Koppelman & David Levien). Directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien take a colorful look at the re-invention of tennis in the first decade of the Open era through the lens of Jimmy Connors’ career and his famous 1991 U.S. Open run. Run Time: 51 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Bernie and Ernie (Dir. Jason Hehir). When Bernard King arrived at Knoxville, he was only the third African-American ever to play for the Vols’ varsity team. By the time he left he was a legend. Along with talented teammate Ernie Grunfeld, they gained national acclaim as part of what was known as “The Ernie and Bernie Show.” Run Time: 51 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Youngstown Boys (Dir. Jeff Zimbalist & Michael Zimbalist). Explore the class and power dynamics in college sports through the parallel and interconnected journeys of one-time dynamic running back Maurice Clarett and former elite head coach Jim Tressel. Run Time: 115 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
The Price of Gold (Dir. Nanette Burstein). Director Nanette Burstein takes a fresh look at the 1994 Winter Games and the spectacle surrounding figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Requiem for the Big East (Dir. Ezra Edelman). Take a nostalgic look at the rivalries and successes that catapulted the Big East to groundbreaking success. Told through the lens of famed Big East coaches and some of its most iconic players, the film encapsulates the era and region in which the Big East was born. Run Time: 102 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Bad Boys (Dir. Zak Levitt). Few teams in professional sports history elicit such a wide range of emotions as the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s and early ’90s. For anyone who experienced the Bad Boys in action, the players, including Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman, carved out their own identity, both in the league and in American popular culture. Run Time: 101 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Slaying The Badger (Dir. John Dower). Before Lance Armstrong, there was Greg LeMond, who is now the first and only American to win the Tour de France. In this engrossing film, LeMond looks back at the pivotal 1986 Tour and his increasingly vicious rivalry with friend, teammate and mentor Bernard Hinault. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Playing For The Mob (Dirs. Joe Lavine & Cayman Grant). Set in the seemingly golden world of college basketball, this intriguing film tells the true story behind the 1990 Martin Scorsese classic, Goodfellas, and how mobster Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta in the iconic film), helped orchestrate fixing of Boston College basketball games during the 1978-79 season. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
The Day The Series Stopped (Dir. Ryan Fleck). On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m. PT, soon after Al Michaels and Tim McCarver started the ABC telecast for Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, the ground began to shake beneath Candlestick Park. The 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake rolled through, bringing death and destruction. The record book shows that the A’s swept the Giants, but that has become a footnote to the larger story of the 1989 World Series. Run Time: 51 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
When The Garden Was Eden (Dir. Michael Rapaport). Based on the book by Harvey Araton, director Michael Rapaport explores the only championship years of the New York Knicks, when they made the NBA Finals in three out of four seasons, winning two titles. Stitched together by Red Holzman, these Knicks – Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Earl Monroe, Dick Barnett and Phil Jackson — showed the NBA and the world what it was like to play as a team. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Brian and the Boz (Dir. Thaddeus D. Matula). In some ways, Brian “The Boz” Bosworth and Barry Switzer were made for each other. The Oklahoma coach and the linebacker he recruited to play for him were both outsized personalities who delighted in thumbing their noses at the establishment. Director Thaddeus D. Matula examines the dual identities of Brian Bosworth as he looks back on his life and passes on the lessons he’s learned to his son. Run Time: 51 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Brothers in Exile (Dir. Mario Diaz). Discover the remarkable story of Cubans Livan and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who risked their lives to get off the island, and eventually went on to world championship success in the United States. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Rand University (Dir. Marquis Daisy). Randy Moss has long been an enigma – largely known for his athletic brilliance on the football field and his troubles off it. Rand University goes back to where he came from – Rand, West Virginia – and explores what almost derailed his extraordinary career. Run Time: 51 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
The U Part 2 (Dir. Billy Corben). “The U Part 2″ picks up where the original film left off, with the program trying to recover from the devastation left by NCAA sanctions and scandals that had some calling for the University of Miami to drop football. Run Time: 102 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Of Miracles and Men (Dir. Jonathan Hock). Explore the scope of the “Miracle on Ice” through the Soviet lens. With an intense focus on the game of hockey itself, the film gives renewed suspense and a fresh perspective to the journey of a stunned Soviet team. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
I Hate Christian Laettner (Dir. Rory Karpf). Go beyond the polarizing persona and uncover the complete story behind this lightning rod of college basketball. Featuring extensive access to Christian Laettner and previously unseen footage, this film is a “gloves-off” examination of the man who has been seen by many as the “Blue Devil Himself.” Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Sole Man (Dirs. Jon Weinbach & Dan Marks). Sonny Vaccaro is one of the sports world’s most charismatic, polarizing and influential figures. Now 75, he is still a fast-talking maverick whose zeal for basketball, advocacy for underprivileged kids, and instinct for sales forged an era of unprecedented growth for two pillars of pop culture: basketball and sneakers. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen
Angry Sky (Dir. Jeff Tremaine). Fifty years before Felix Baumgartner and his epic skydive from space in 2012, there was Nick Piantanida, an eccentric and charismatic pet store owner from New Jersey who turned down an offer from the New York Knicks to pursue his dream of breaking the world record for highest parachute jump. Run Time: 77 Min / TV Rating: NR / Version: Widescreen