By Jed Wells
It’s now been one week since the conclusion of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” and while the documentary finished with a cathartic NBA championship, back in the real world there is still a ways to go before the return of the NBA. With professional sports suspended indefinitely in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Last Dance” gave sports fans a chance to return to the world of sports. So now, as “The Last Dance” draws to a close, many sports fans are left wondering where and when they can get their next hit of sports. With this in mind, here are five basketball documentaries to fix your “The Last Dance” cravings.
POOH: The Derrick Rose Story (2019)
“POOH: The Derrick Rose Story” is a documentary produced by television and internet sports network Stadium, which charts the course of the greatest Chicago Bulls player since Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose. Directed by Scott Diener, “POOH” follows hometown hero Rose during his high school and college career, through to being drafted by the Chicago Bulls. It shows the ups and downs of his career in Chicago, including the heartbreaking moment he was told he had been traded and gives the audience an insight into Derrick Rose the person, as well as the basketball player. The documentary is slightly more sentimental than “The Last Dance” but for people looking for a documentary about a beloved Chicago basketball player, “POOH: The Derrick Rose Story” is a respectable second choice.
Magic & Bird: A Courtship Of Rivals (2010)
People may know Ezra Edelman as the director of the smash hit “O.J.: Made in America,” but before he directed the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, he created “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals,” in conjunction with HBO. As the title suggests, this documentary follows the careers of NBA legends Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird who are often credited with saving the NBA during the 1980s. Magic and Bird’s careers and lives both intertwined and stood as polar opposites, from their college days all the way through their prestigious NBA careers, from which came eight NBA championships, six MVP awards, 24 All-Star appearances and two Hall of Fame inductions. “Magic & Bird” taps into the same vein of nostalgia featured throughout “The Last Dance” and does a tremendous job of detailing one of the defining eras of the NBA.
Lenny Cooke (2013)
It comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen “Uncut Gems,” but the Safdie Brothers Josh and Benny are enthusiastic basketball fans. But they have shown this far earlier than their most recent film, with their 2013 documentary “Lenny Cooke.” This documentary follows the life of former high school basketball star Lenny Cooke, who at one point was ranked above NBA stars such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. However, through a combination of bad judgment and lackluster effort, Cooke ultimately went undrafted in the league, and fell through the cracks of the professional system, playing overseas for a time but finding himself out of the basketball world before 30. The documentary was initially shot by Adam Shopkorn, who lost touch with Cooke. Shopkorn later approached the Safdies regarding the completion of the project, and together they created a heartbreaking cautionary tale, showing perhaps the opposite end of the spectrum as “The Last Dance” in regards to success in pro basketball.
Q Ball (2019)
“Q Ball” is a 2019 documentary that uses basketball as a way to explore deeper themes, while still maintaining an entertaining mood throughout. The documentary focuses on inmates in San Quentin prison who play on an organized basketball squad. Using player/inmate Harry ‘ATL’ Smith as the point of focus, Michael Tolijian’s documentary shows how San Quentin’s basketball team and program rehabilitates inmates and helps them create a better life post-prison. The climax of the film sees the SQ squad take on a Golden State Warriors staff team, and subsequently Harry Smith is offered an opportunity to try out for the Golden State’s development team, following his release on parole. Ultimately, basketball is not the main focus of “Q Ball” but rather it acts as a lens into the lives and culture of the San Quentin inmates.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
“Hoop Dreams” is not just a basketball documentary, it is THE basketball documentary. It’s a quintessential look at the relationship between basketball and American society. Released in 1994 by director Steve James, “Hoop Dreams” follows the story of two teenage black basketball players from Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they struggle to adapt to playing at St Joseph High school, which is predominantly white. Similar to “Q Ball,” basketball in “Hoop Dreams” is used to address more serious topics of race, class, and coming of age in America. One of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of all time, “Hoop Dreams” was nominated for the 1995 Academy Award for Best Film Editing but was controversially not nominated for Best Documentary Feature. It was awarded the top position on the International Documentary Association’s ‘Top 25 Documentaries’ list in 2007 and remains essential viewing for any basketball fan to this day.
So, while “The Last Dance” is now over, and live sports remain somewhere in the distant future, these basketball documentaries will most definitely scratch that sporting itch, and hopefully keep audiences entertained until the real thing hits airwaves again.
What are some of your favorite basketball documentaries? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Jed and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @JedWells