Sports always have an inspirational edge to them. Whether it’s the story of the underdog or a slighted athlete who miraculously beat the odds, the drama of it all is what brings people back for more. The popular umbrella series, ESPN’s 30 for 30, pays homage to such theatrics, humbling experiences, and overall great sports stories.
ESPN.com columnist and Grantland founder, Bill Simmons, developed the concept and ESPN aired the series starting in October 2009. The goal was to chronicle 30 stories in the 30 years of the ESPN era. Simmons enlisted filmmakers to create "stories that resonated at the time but were eventually forgotten for whatever reason,” said Simmons on the 30 for 30 website.
It probably seems strange I’m bringing the series up, as it’s nearly two years old, but ESPN Classic recently played a surge of episodes. I’m feeling inspired.
The drama the filmmakers were able to bring to each story and the simple editing that can make some interviews so compelling; 30 for 30 really escalated the standard for sports documentaries.
Without Bias, tells the story of Len Bias’ tragic death two days after the Boston Celtics chose him second overall in the 1986 NBA Draft. Bias died from a cocaine-induced heart attack in his University of Maryland dorm room. The documentary shows a truly poignant story in sports, not glamorized by fame and money but one that magnifies the pain of a family and the wayward affect one death had on the sports community.
On the flip side, there are episodes like, Into the Wild, the remarkable tale of Terry Fox’s attempt to run across Canada to support fundraising for cancer. In a more recent story, Four Days in Octoberchronicles the Boston Red Sox’s comeback against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS series. 30 for 30 was able to take a four day stretch and recreate the drama and anxiety the series provoked. Even if you knew the outcome of that fateful series, you’d still be on the edge of your seat to see what happened next.
Employing feature filmmakers to create each episode coupled with great stories resulted in a fantastic series of documentaries. When it comes down to it though, the sports do most of the talking and sometimes you just can’t write this stuff.