ranking 30 for 30


Probably a week late for anyone to still be thinking about it, but it’s worth celebrating the time where ESPN produced programs worth ranking, instead of shows which were just rankings. Or rank.

I don’t know how many people got to see all 30 of them. Shouldn’t have been that tricky, but “Guru of Go” premiered on Saturday afternoon on ABC for some reason and you had to hunt around on ESPNU or Classic to find it later on. It also sounds like a lot of people were sleeping on this until The U, but they’ve all been reruned many times.

All are available on Amazon and elsewhere, and I imagine there will be a marathon on Classic or somewhere over the holidays. Just go to town recording them.

I had planned on just categorizing them, but talked myself into doing the straight rankings in the end. I defend nothing and everything.

Must See

  1. The Two Escobars – or, the story of one country thru one sport. On the podcast for this show, they said there was a feature film version of this documentary on the way. I can not imagine how that will be better than this – the amount of characters and personalities in two hours was incalculable. It was a ton of material, totally captivating material, but information that worked great it’s in form. I got a better perspective of Pablo Escobar (and what different people thought of him) from people talking about him than an actor portraying him.
  2. Into the Wind – maybe Canadians have heard this story many times and they’re more numb to it. This was all new to me, and very affecting.
  3. The U – this would be here for Luther Campbell’s speech, even if there wasn’t anything else worth watching. There’s a lot more than that,.
  4. The Best That Never Was – The high school football footage of Dupree crushing people was great. The college footage was better. That nothing has really changed – plug in the UFL for the USFL quite easily – was expected and depressing.
  5. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson –more balanced than I expected, a lot deeper
  6. The Birth of Big Air – would’ve never watched a documentary on a BMX-er if not for this series, much less go top 10. I was amazed by the lengths, risks and ingenuity to break a personal record.
  7. Once Brothers – Divac talking thru the break up of his team thru the break up of his country, and the damage that can never be repaired surpassed the flimsy framing device
  8. 06/17/94 – the ending shot of the Ford Bronco being towed away, under bright stage lights, looking like a site being dissembled at the end of dramatic day of shooting, is one of the best of this whole series. This is an amazing editing job.
  9. Muhammad and Larry – this is not much if not for the Ali training footage, full of people realizing events are headed downhill, but clinging to their denial. The glimpses of the human side make the superman bit seem sad
  10. Pony Excess – maybe too much story for 2 hours; it felt like the Dickerson case was the only one where it felt like they went into depth before the SMU program started to fall apart. Lots of interesting stories and theories (about the impact of geography and newspapers especially), but I would’ve liked a little more on the rise and fall and not the attempt at a happy ending.
  11. Without Bias – though probably enough of people trying to retell this story. It needs to be remembered, but it’s well examined here and has been a few times already
  12. King’s Ransom – It’s been too long, I can’t even remember why I liked it, but I felt like they got everyone involved to give their version and gave us enough space to find the truths in between.
  13. The 16th Man – I didn’t see Invictus. I wasn’t really sure how things were scored. This was still good enough to make me care and understand the importance of the South African team. No one overstates the importance of sport than ESPN, but they had me believing in what this team meant to this country.

I could really switched around everything from 5 down on a whim.

That’s 13 out of 30 where you really ought to go out of you way to watch. Not just good, but an hour (or more) that’s quite great. An amazing hit rate.


  1. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? – not as much to say from here on; most of these just love their subject too much, and can’t tell a story beyond this love. This one most of all.
  2. Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks – This wasn’t as much one story as incidents over a couple series. It’s possible to be enjoyable and not in the league of the other ones.
  3. Unmatched – pleasant, but didn’t have a standout moment to make it stick out. This is the least helpful blurb yet. Some crazy bad hair!
  4. The Band that Wouldn’t Die –The Irsay footage at the airport was great, and you felt how much holding on to a little piece of the Colts meant to them.
  5. Tim Richmond: To the Limit – another one where it seemed liked you got too short a glimpse of the personalities potential before they moved onto the strife. (Though, I guess that’s the point.)
  6. Fernando Nation – everything but the rookie season and the initial fascination seems brushed over and ignored, but that is some impressive stuff. (A lot of which looks different today – people would be fired and sued on those pitch counts in 2010.) There was a good idea about the Dodgers and Latino fans at the start of this, but it seemed to get lost along the way
  7. The Legend of Jimmy the Greek – There were great stories here. There was also a simulated Jimmy the Greek walking around town.
  8. Little Big Men – surprisingly more about the after effects of the Little League World Series than the win itself.
  9. One Night in Vegas – The Tyson/Tupak friendship was interesting, but not enough to justify another movie about the night Tupak died.

Worth Watching If Nothing Else Is On

  1. Guru of Go – or, “the Hank Gathers Story from the perspective of the coach.” You lose me a little bit when the validation of your basketball theories comes from winning a WNBA championship (with who I assume is one of the best women’s basketball players of all time)
  2. Run Ricky Run – a bit too hazy and unfocused.
  3. Jordan Rides the Bus – MJ was on his way to a no doubt HOF career if he had stuck with baseball, who knew?
  4. Four Days In October – if only for the locker room footage. If only for making me really want to see the Erik Karros 2003 locker room video footage that’s locked in a safety deposit box somewhere. I’d like to see that movie a 1000x more than the one ESPN wants to do.


  1. Marion Jones: Press Pause – there’s actually about 20 some minutes of this scattered about that are interesting. Too bad it’s a naked attempt at public relations makeover and never aims to be any more.
  2. Straight Outta L.A. – two separate stories which would’ve been more interesting separate and didn’t work hard enough to make them come together. Ice Cube & Snoop Dogg got to throw a football around in the LA Coliseum as part of a movie, so at least there’s that.
  3. Silly Little Game – Sam Walker turns up here as a talking head, which only served to remind me he wrote a very good book telling this same story, only a million times better. Telling the story of the start of fantasy sports by belittling it is an odd way to go, and can’t have been the intention. It sure was the result.
  4. The House of Steinbrenner – bait and switch; looked like it was going to be about Steinbrenner himself. Instead, it was an uninteresting ode to the old stadium and new, only interesting to those who’ve spent a lot of time looking at it. Very disappointing,