Sunday, April 25, 2010

30 for 30 Reflections

In case you've been under a rock over the past 9+ months, ESPN's 30 for 30 has been a staple of mandatory viewing - save for the unnecessary break from late December to mid-March - for any sports fan or wannabe sports' historian.

If anything, 30 for 30 serves as a visual encyclopedia - through an albeit biased lens at times - to some of the sporting worlds' greatest stories of the past 30 years.
As Wikipedia might tell you...
30 for 30
is a documentary series chronicling 30 stories from the ESPN era, each of which detail the issues and events that transformed the sports landscape since the sports network was founded in 1979.

Learning about the U in the 80s and Uncle Luke? Priceless.

Some of the topics have included:
Muhammad Ali, the USFL, Wayne Gretzky, Allen Iverson, Jimmy the Greek, Len Bias, and Reggie Miller.

The words "own goal" only conjured up one name for me: Andres Escobar.
The 30 for 30 surrounding him may be the eeriest of them all.

Some future topics will include:
Marion Jones, Michael Jordan, Matt Hoffman, George Steinbrenner, Mike Tyson, and Marcus Dupree.

While I haven't had the opportunity to watch all of them (and won't comment on all those I have seen), I wanted to offer a few thoughts, highlights, and see if I could trigger a reaction or two.

For more thorough analysis, one need go no further than the AV Club.

Before I begin, I better "
date" myself.
I am a rabid sports fan. We all know that.
What you may not know is I was born in
This dates me for the majority of these stories, honestly.

Nevertheless, I used to wake up at 6am to watch an hour-long Sportscenter before getting ready for school (starting in the 2nd grade), collected cards (baseball, football, and primarily basketball) with any spare change I could squeeze out of my mom or grandparents, and have New York affiliations (Jets, Yanks, Knicks *sigh*, and Syracuse) to my heart.

Why is it when I search on Google Images for "Craig Kilborn + Sportscenter" I am subjected to countless pictures of this untalented, unfunny moron???

In addition, here are my first true sporting memories...
College Basketball -
My uncle nearly sobbing after Rumeal Robinson hit 2 free throws - after being fouled with 3 seconds and Michigan trailing Seton Hall by 1 in the 1989 title game - thus ending the Pirates chance at a national championship.
Baseball -
Cincinnati annihilated the A's - and then-favorite player Rickey Hendrson - in the 1990 World Series.
Basketball -
The layup still shown round-the-world by MJ against the Lakers in LA. (I'm a rabid-MJ hater, by the way.)
Football -
Roger Craig's fumble always come to my mind first, way back in the 1990 NFC title game. First actual memories? Timmy Smith seeming faster than the camera during Super Bowl XXII.
College Football -
George Teague and Bama (p)owning Gino Torretta. It still makes me chuckle a little.

As for the 30 for 30 specials, a few thoughts and observations...

Episode #1: King's Random
[Wayne Gretzky's trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings.]
-The year in focus is 1988 and it's a trade that will likely remain in the top 5 (if not the top spot) in every conceivable "Most Infamous Trades" list ever compiled. Perhaps only the Babe Ruth deal has involved a star and a celebrity the likes of the Great One. Key word: perhaps. I found Peter Berg's direction to be steady, although I admittedly didn't feel moved as much as I expected to by the story. Perhaps it's me being American or my ambivalence towards hockey. Ironically, an episode of a now defunct ESPN show (The 5 Reason's You Can't Blame...) which may have done a better job of capturing my interest in this story.

Episode #3: Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL
[Rise and fall of the United States Football League.]
I suppose I wanted to learn more about the USFL, the talent it snatched up from underneath the NFL (Walker, Young, Kelly, White etc.), and less about the business side of it. Unfortunately, that wasn't the story being told. Nevertheless, the links to Donald Trump - who is not a 100% success story in business, I hope you know - and the ever-growing behemoth that is the NFL was riveting enough to maintain my interest throughout.

Episode #5: Without Bias
[The life of Len Bias.]
In a word gut-wrenching. My favorite episode of the series thus far, it was more than tough to watch at times. I was far too young to know anything about Bias while it happened, but the story was told as if it just happened. Jim Vance (DC newsman) and Michael Wilbon were poignant, primary sources who were brilliantly used. I'm not sure if I'll watch this again, but not due to the quality. It was almost too emotionally taxing, to say the very least.

Episode #6: The Legend of Jimmy the Greek
[The life of Jimmy the Greek.]
Finally able to watch it this weekend (which spurned this column), I was fascinated about the dynamics of the NFL Today on CBS. I find similar shows today to be glorified advertisements for the hosts (Michael Strahan promoting "Brothers") and filled with the hosts putting forth their personal agendas (I heart Brett Favre by Chris Berman) over any NFL analysis the most average fan could give you. You mean to tell me that Brett Favre plays well in cold weather? Nevertheless, the story of Jimmy the Greek brought forth a character that was larger than life and a staple of football and all of sports - gambling - that is bigger than even the biggest Vegas Sportsbooks believe it is today. It immediately made me want to seek out someone who was old enough to remember the Greek during his heyday.

Episode #8: Winning Time - Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks
[Reggie Miller's impact on the New York Knicks in the 1990s.]
As a Knick fan, it brought back waaaaaay too many memories that I have tried to forget. Even after beating Miller, which happened as often as we lost to him, the Knicks still never could bring home that title for Ewing and the all-too-passionate fans of his era. When you find yourself angry over a game that happened 15+ years ago, the filmmakers more than succeeded. Although, truth be told, an upcoming 30 for 30 on June 17th, 1994 (ala OJ in the Bronco vs. Houston/New York Finals game) has me salivating even more.

Episode #10: No Crossover - The Trial of Allen Iverson
[Iverson's high school race trial]
Being a citizen of Virginia for quite some time, this story had a personal touch. I've only visited Hampton (and not all of it), but you felt the tension in this story existed to this day with many of its citizens. Two important things were expertly analyzed:
1) The racial tensions which still have divided the city of Hampton.
2) The absolute avoidance of the topic by 99% of the people involved (including Iverson) 16 years later.
The conspiracy theories were an absolute riot, as well. I also should mention its direction, Steve James, directed the best documentary I've ever seen (and maybe you as well), Hoop Dreams.

Episode #11: Silly Little Game
[The development of Rotisserie (Fantasy) Baseball.]
I didn't enjoy the style in which it was presented, but I loved hearing about the birth of fantasy sports as we know it today. Anyone who believes themselves to be a "fantasy junkie" should watch this. I only wish the spouses of the founding members had been given more of a forum to express their opinions on how this "silly little game" impacted their lives. If it were better directed, the content alone may have put this in my 2nd - or even top - spot.

If I had a request a few topics for future 30 for 30s, I think I'd go with these 5:
1) The day (and potentially build-up) of Magic Johnson's press conference revealing he had contracted the HIV virus
2) Michael Jordan and his gambling addiction (including the 2-year suspension "conspiracy theory")
3) The story of the "Jewish Jordan" Tamir Goodman
4) The tragic death of New Jersey Net Drazen Petrovic
5) The paternity cases of Shawn Kemp (seriously)

Your requests???

1 comment:

Brad Slepetz said...

I'd like to see a story on the 1991 World Series and Chicago Bulls legend Ricky Blanton