30 for 30: Ghosts of Ole Miss


while the site is working again…

Five points

  • The idea, at least in part, seemed to be to give more attention to a team lost in the fog of racism and a riot. I never felt like that happened. I couldn’t tell you what the undefeated 1962 Mississippi team did well or who were the key players on the team. The highlights made them look like a team which made key plays to win every game, which doesn’t separate them from any team in an NFL Films post season wrap up. I learned about their achievements and I learned a little bit about who they were away from the field, but the team itself still seemed lost among everything else.
  • If it wasn’t about the football team, it might have been about our willingness to remember things we’d rather not, but seemed to come down to “let’s remember what other people did while not totally holding it against them, and make sure not to look to close how people close to us acted”, which is not the most satisfying theme.
  • Re-enactness usually come off to me as hokey, but how it was done here amidst all the interviews of the riot. That whole section was the strongest portion of the documentary.
  • It is crazy to see a full football stadium all waving confederate flags. I don’t normally feel sheltered, but I did then. It didn’t even look like something of the past, it looked like something of an alternate time line.
  • They didn’t do polls after the season! There are so many smart people in colleges and universities, and they’ve always had the dumbest ways of determining the best football teams.
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30 for 30: Benji


I didn’t give up on this already, I’ve had the post rolling around in my head since this aired and just haven’t been able to get it out. Part of it has been busy doing everything else (and getting to about half of it), part of it was trying to figure out how I say what I want to say about this one. And I still haven’t found a good way to do it. There’s an elephant in the room, and if I’m just emotionless enough, I can step around it. (In no way will I be explaining this.)

I did not remember Ben Wilson; I was kid outside of Chicago when he died, but I wouldn’t have been known about high school basketball (or basketball entirely) at that point, and I only had the vaguest recollection of his name. Somehow, I do remember Mary Wilson as a person who’d be mentioned on local news, but did not realize it was Ben’s mom until late in the movie. The idea that Benji was a revered player in Chicago even today is probably true, but there are a lot of different Chicagos.

The overall reverence towards Benji drew me out of the movie at times, because there were so many obvious holes in it. Jalen Rose – doing the usual 15 second ESPN talking head clip shown during a commercial break but not actually part of the movie – saying the two players NBA fans were robbed of seeing were Len Bias and Ben Watson was absurd sentimentalism It’s a tragedy Watson died, but I have no doubt there are tragedies in Los Angeles and New York and Austin and Des Monies that robbed promising athletes of great futures. I dearly wish random acts of violence were a rare thing. They’re not. (Hopefully, gunshot victims being dropped off at hospitals unable to handle them is now a impossible rare thing.)

And on the other side, Watson did not come across as in the movie as certain a future star as those in the documentary were guaranteeing. He was called the #1 Junior in the country after a camp, but at what appears to be the early days of ranking prep players. Even today, those rankings aren’t reliable accurate as to future success and a lot can change; the movie noted Nick Anderson transferring to the school and others complaining about Simeon being too loaded by two top guys together. Anderson went on to have an okay NBA career, something anyone should be happy with, but not exactly the equal of Magic Johnson with a jumpshot. The limited footage of Watson playing showed a very good high school player, but not someone who was leaps and bounds better than his competition (like Ronald Dupree in his 30 for 30.) There were warning signs in Watson’s life of trouble – no one in his family knew he was serious with a girl, and it turns out he’s a father? – and there’s a pool room of people laughing about how they were already planning on living off him the rest as soon as he made any money. This could’ve gone wrong in so many other ways.

The most affecting scene in the movie was the high school memorial to Benji, where his classmates fell into hysterical grieving during a song. That got to me about how much Benji meant to them and how much it hurt he was gone, more than any scouting ranking or #1 finger pose. Their friend and hero was gone and they were devastated. I could’ve used more about Ben Watson the person and less Ben Watson the highly recruited basketball prospect.

Tracking down the guy who killed Watson and finding out what exactly happen – that it was simply a stupid act of violence by a kid who thought he had to prove something to the world – was daring but it gave the movie an extra dimension. Not being able to talk to Watson’s girlfriend felt like a hole the other way.

I did like this one. It’s just – for a movie about a death, I feel like I know more about how everyone else felt about him then I do about the deceased himself. A large part of Ben Watson’s story is his impact on everyone else, but the man himself seemed like a basketball legend and not a person.

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30 for 30: There’s No Place Like Home


A Kansas basketball recruiting film doubling as a crazy fan trying to bilk people out of millions of dollars for a piece of paper. They worked hard to emphasis the importance of the paper and it’s connection to the school, but it’s still a piece of paper. The bit near the end, where they point out the other items on auction are an original signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and a flag from Custer’s Last Stand and try to say the rules of basketball are just as big was typically delusional for most of the show. No one’s in any danger of forgetting James Naismith or the game of basketball if the original rules are sitting in someone’s attic or burned in the fireplace. It’s an insane premise.

I probably would’ve have given up on the entire thing if not for these posts, and if not that been told that it picked up in the last half hour. (I would’ve been done when Josh took off his $20 t-shirt and laid it down on James Naismith grave as a solemn tribute, if not sooner. They wanted to show dedication and respect, they instead showed their lead character was a total lunatic.)

The show did pick up when other people interceded on Josh’s help, and most of all with the long auction scene at the end. The movie did a strong enough spot where we wanted to see crazy Josh’s efforts come thru, and had absolutely no idea if they actually would. (Revealing it was a Duke person they were bidding against, as foreshadowed either, worked well.)

The auction scene was dramatic, but I wasn’t convinced it was honest. The first half hour was spent with the lead faking people that he was filming a documentary about the rules when he really had some other plan going on, and I’m not totally convinced that ended after the first half hour. I’m not totally being paranoid; the documentary led the viewer to believe they were seeing his complete trip from the announcement of the auction to the auction itself, but his highlight reel pitch package includes footage of Josh talking to ex-Kansas players (and Jay Bilas!) with no particular explanation of how it got there. That auction scene at the end is super dramatic if we don’t know how far the Booths will go to pay for the rules (and pretend Josh doesn’t know either), but maybe we only didn’t know because that part was also just not included.

This was not the worst one of the two seasons, but it’s not one I’d ever need to see again.

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30 for 30: 9.78*


I tend to write to talk out my thoughts, but this was a time where I needed to talk before writing my thoughts. To that end, a snippit of a phone conversation.

“Do you think Carl Lewis used Performance Enhancing Drugs?”

J: “No.”
me: “Absolutely yes.”

His case was based on physiques – Lewis looked like a world class sprinter, Ben Johnson looked like muscle monster – and Johnson’s sudden surprising rise. If they were both using stuff, Lewis should’ve been blowing Johnson away, not waching in shock as Johnson flew past him.

My case was partially informed by what came the day after – 11 people testifying Lance Armstrong was using. It’s tough to believe the top guy isn’t using when everyone chasing him did. It was also partially informed by the discussion on the associated Simmons/Gladwell podcast, where two dots in the movie – “HGH creates changes in the jaw require braces for those in their mid-20s” and “Carl Lewis, wearing braces” – were connected for me even before I saw it myself. Mostly, it’s that I’ve followed sports and psuedo-sports where PED usage is rampant, where the performance gain may be there but the Hulk-like physiques are not always, and my benefit of the doubt have been exhausted.

(FWIW, he believes the Jamaicans probably are on something, but more so Yohan Blake than Bolt.)

The unresolved question about Lewis is where the documentary leaves you, and it’s not really where I expected to be stepping off. It’s track, there’s always that question, but the first 3/4ths of the movie is more about Ben Johnson and Canada’s track team’s path to that race in Seoul and the ensuing fall out. It’s an interesting examination about how far a country – but just a person, but the sporting resources of a motivated nation – will go to achieve gold.

That story gets told, but it also gets flipped on it’s head in the last stretch: most of the others in the race are shown to have committed similar crimes and the US team more or less admits to spiking Johnson’s test results to trigger a positive. (“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t” is the greatest non-denial denial ever.) I wouldn’t mind watching a lot of 30 for 30s again, but twist at the end made me want to see again immediately, just to rewatch in the totally different context presented by the end of the movie.

The exact end of the movie, with the drug tester pointing out they got the guy, so job done, kind of fell flat unless it was supposed to be ironic. If we’re to believe the story Johnson tells, his drink had been spiked for months and he hadn’t been caught, and the actual substances he was using were never caught. (Going back, Johnson’s doctor shocked reaction to the drug he tested positive for suggests it was the spiked drug that was caught, not whatever he was actually on.) Johnson was using whatever he was using regularly from the time he started to challenge Lewis, and he was only caught the last time. Drug testing failed dozens of times, and only got a win with help.

If you want stretch, Johnson being caught may be have been a determent to the PED fighting culture; it surely scared people of for a time, but it probably also convinced drug testers that they were closer to stopping the problem than they actually were. It’s like someone playing on slot machines who finally hits on a winning set after losing 40 times, forget they’ve lost each time, finally gets a winning combination, and thinks what they’re doing is working. I’m not saying down with drug testing, but to put any praise towards it based on Ben Johnson being caught would be missing the big picture.

It’s 25 years later and not a lot has really changed. When the female sprinter explained how they wouldn’t use the drugs in competition, just in training, and stop in time for it to get out of their system before testing, I thought about how many times Dave Meltzer has explained the same technique being used by MMA fighters today. The drug testers know it too, it’s a nut they can’t crack without doing more testing.

9.78* was entertaining and gave you something to think about after the fact. It’s one of the better ones they’ve done. I’m not so convinced next week’s will be that way – in fact, I’ve looked at the description and figured I probably wouldn’t bother if I wasn’t challenging myself to be a completest – but it might surprise me. This one did.

30 for 30: Broke


an attempt to see if I can write something on each one, while not committing more than 15 minutes

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What they covered, the situations and the pitfalls. The depth and breadth in a half hour was immense. It was also sort of the biggest flaw; there was so much information and nothing in between that it was just mind numbing after a half hour. There need to be breaths, there was no breaths. It made any moment where a speaker paused (usually for reflection) stick out even more stronger, because here was a rare couple of seconds where nothing was being heard (except for the repetitive background music) and you could gather your thoughts as they gathered theirs. It was constant hammering; at least you didn’t need to see every nail pushed into follow the story, but they had a lot of nails they wanted to pound.

It was good! It would’ve been better as 2 hour show with zero extra content is what I”m saying.

Andre Rison was MVP. They had to have someone with his attitude, and they needed someone besides those who had it figured out from the start and from the sad guys who didn’t figure it until too late. Rison clearly didn’t figure it out until it was too late, but he didn’t show – or he kept his glasses on to not show it and that worked too.

Herm Edwards doing the Herm Edwards bit as someone I could most do with out. Everyday, any platform.

I thought they reached for a happy ending without actually proving things were getting better. From a marketing standpoint, this was probably a good one to start with to get people talking about the series, but I prefer the documentaries which are narrower on one story, not just trying to cover a trend. Next week’s sounds a bit more what I’m looking for.

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