Top 15 ESPN 30 for 30’s

Honorable Mention: Catching Hell. This is the story of Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman told through the eyes and experiences of those fans sitting around him when he infamously interfered with Moises Alou and caught that foul ball in the 2003 playoffs against the Marlins. This is getting honorable mention for one reason. Bartman wasn’t interviewed for the film and at the time he was said to be in hiding. The media had never been able to reach him for a comment or interview. At the end of the film the show’s producer hunts him down in a dark parking garage somewhere in Florida. Can you imagine, someone yelling Steve! from a distance in a dark parking garage, thinking one of the crazy death-threat Cub fans has found you and your life is over? He asks him for a comment, and Bartman, clearly shook up, mutters “If you want to interview me you need to go through my representatives and the proper channels.” As he’s standing by the elevator. Ha. Classic.

15: You Don’t know Bo. Had to put this one in here just because of the urban legends that go along with this man. Bo Jackson being the best athlete in the world during his prime, and being dominant in two sports, are the least interesting things about him. Just watch and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

14: Jordan Rides The Bus. This is about the period of time Michael Jordan spent playing minor league baseball. Most Jordan fans pretty much know everything about him already, but this documentary sheds a ton of facts and erases a lot of public perceived fictions on his minor league baseball days. Terry Francona has the best quote in the film towards the end. I won’t spoil it. It also has some great behind the scenes footage and interviews during his baseball days. It’s funny how many teammates describe Jordan as ‘just one of the guys’…As he buys a $350,000 bus for the team to travel in during the season.

13: Ghosts of Ole Miss. This is the story of the University of Mississippi integration in 1962 and how an undefeated college football team was caught in the middle. Aside from the story itself, the parts I found most fascinating were the audio recordings of phone calls from John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy to Ross Barnett, the Mississippi governor at the time. The story of James Meredith, the first black man ‘allowed’ into the University of Mississippi, is also told. With everything going on in the world today, this is a very good watch. You can decide for yourself just how far we’ve come since 1962.

12: Fab Five. This is another one I’ve seen many times. It came out about a decade ago and I always like to revisit it. When I was in high school I read a 400 page book about these guys. Yes, actually read it. Couldn’t put it down actually. So to see some of the things jump off the page and onto the screen years later was amazing. It’s the early 90’s story of five freshman basketball players all joining the University of Michigan the same year and revolutionizing college basketball. From their cocky-look at me-attitudes, to their trash talking, long shorts, and black socks, the ‘Fab Five’ were entertaining and did things their own way.

11: The Legend of Jimmy The Greek. This is my personal favorite. I understand why it’s not as popular and flies more under the radar than the others. On the surface it looks like it’s only for a certain genre, but it’s actually a real human interest story. It goes with the rise and fall theme of many 30 for 30s. It’s the story of a professional gambler who made it all the way to the pinnacle of the business and was eventually dragged down to nothing because of some comments he made about black athletes. Brent Musburger and Hank Goldberg tell some amazing stories throughout.

10: Small Potatoes. Who Killed the USFL? This one is a must watch just because of how stupid Donald Trump is and how bad he looks throughout. I can’t believe this guy made his money running successful businesses after watching this film. What an idiot. It’s the story of a spring professional football league launched in the 80’s. The stories from some of the players and coaches are great too, but the main takeaway for me is Trump.

9: The Last Days of Knight. So good. It talks about all the events that lead to Bobby Knight’s departure, who Bob Knight really was, and how he pretty much ran the state of Indiana. I was amazed at how many times the word ‘fear’ was used to describe Knight from anyone who had come in contact with him. The creator of the documentary said “I couldn’t get anyone to talk, I felt like I was doing a mob story.”

But more importantly it tells the story of Neil Reid, one of Knight’s former players, and the life he lead right up until his death at 36 years old in 2012. It was extremely detailed, thorough, and well worth your time. This story will stir up all sorts of emotions.

8: Unguarded. Really well done and very in depth. It follows Boston born basketball player Chris Herron, his upbringing, and his journey through college and the pros, as he battles demons of drug and substance abuse along the way. The ending delivers the payoff of seeing how he lives his life now.

7: The Four Falls of Buffalo. I Just watched this one last night. It’s fresh in my mind. The one thing that stuck out the most was the fans of the Buffalo Bills. When you watch it you’ll know why. They might be the best in the world. The things they’ve done and continue to still do for their former and current players go above and beyond what other great fanbases due for their teams. This is the story of the Buffalo Bills teams in the early 90’s that made 4 straight super bowl appearances without winning one. It’s told from the perspective of their former coach, former GM, and several former players. This film does a great job of illustrating the Buffalo Bills, their city, and their fanbase are not just a team, a town, and spectators, but rather one big family. Winning means more in Buffalo. They were always my second favorite team (if there is such a thing) but I like them even more now after watching this.

6: Bad Boys. Just an amazing look at the Detroit ‘bad boy’ Pistons teams of the late 80s and early 90s. It’s one of those things you start watching and you think you might remember some stuff or maybe you know a little bit about it…and then you quickly realize you had no idea. All the crazy stories and things that happened at that time…The two hours just fly by. I could have watched two hours on just Bill Laimbeer alone.

5: The U. Pretty easy to love this one. It’s all about the 80s and early 90s University of Miami football program. They basically started a revolution in college football. It goes from Howard Schnellenberger to Jimmy Johnson to Dennis Erikson, with tons of former player input along the way. It’s another rise and fall type of theme, with plenty of stories within the stories along the way.

4: Celtics vs Lakers Best of Enemies. Growing up I had three highlight tapes on VHS that I’d watch almost everyday when I got home from school: Michael Jordan Come Fly With Me, Larry Bird A Basketball Legend, and Magic Johnson Always Showtime. I’d pick one and watch. So I’ve pretty much always known about the Bird-Magic Rivalry, but this documentary goes so much further. In the 1980’s there wasn’t an NBA Finals that didn’t have either the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers in it. And they played each other three times. They go into great detail on those three series. It’s one of my favorite things to watch because it was basketball the way the game should be played. There were so many hard fouls in that series that would have resulted in suspensions, ejections, and flagrant foul calls in todays NBA. Back then they were just fouls. And I learned all sorts of things about key role players like Bill Walton, Cedric Maxwell, M.L. Carr, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott, and Michael Cooper.

3: Survive and Advance. This is the story of the NC State basketball team in 1983 coached by Jimmy Valvano. It follows the life of ‘Jimmy V’ and the influence he had, not just on his players but society itself. Valvano died of cancer in 1993 but his famous ‘V Foundation’ continues to raise money for cancer research. Over the last 19 years it has raised more than 88 million dollars for all things cancer. The story also follows his team. A team that didn’t have a good enough record to even make it to the NCAA tournament on regular season merit. Instead it needed to win its conference tournament, which it did. The team then survived and advanced all the way to winning the national championship, with each game they played being more exciting and having more cinderella storylines than the next. To sum it up the team won 9 straight elimination games, all by either one point or in overtime. They capped it off by beating what some say is the best college basketball team in history in the final…A Houston team with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

The best thing about this film is the way the story is told. All the players on that team, now all old and silver, sitting around a bar/restaurant room table reminiscing game by game by game. The content and humor shines through in that setting.

2: Winning Time. This was close to being my number 1 as well. It’s definitely at the top in terms of 30 for 30s I’ve watched the most times in my life. Which is always the sign that something is great, when you can watch it again and again. It’s about Reggie Miller with the Indiana Pacers and the battles they had with the New York Knicks and Spike Lee in the two years Michael Jordan was out of the league. His battles with John Starks are legendary. His storybook 8 points in 9 seconds is chronicled, and the personal interviews with his former teammates, opponents, coaches, and GM’s, are hilarious and down to earth at the same time.

1: Four Days in October. I don’t know how official any of these rankings really are, but this one is really close to be being my personal favorite. I love baseball. I love that this whole story took place when I was in my early twenties. I love that it took place between the Red Sox and Yankees. I love that I got to witness something that’s never happened in sports before or since. And I love how they put this whole thing together so I could relive it years later. From Dave Roberts and Curt Schilling to David Ortiz and Kevin Millar, it’s pure perfection. Plus all the fan commentary and local news perspectives and features. Maybe not enough Manny being Manny, but otherwise gold. And what an era for baseball…I can name more players on those two teams during that series, than I can name in the entire league today.