Michael Jordan is still a game changer. Since “The Last Dance,” a 10-part series on the Chicago Bulls legend, debuted on ESPN in 2020, documentarians have become some of basketball’s biggest boosters.
We’ve gotten exhilarating profiles of Bill Walton, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Jeremy Lin and Kevin Garnett. Many of those films boasted longer running times than the normal NBA game.
“Underrated,” a film celebrating Stephen Curry, dropped Friday on Apple TV+.
And then there’s the deep dive on Wilt Chamberlain. “Goliath,” a three-parter that premieres at 10 p.m. ET Sunday on Showtime, explores the complexities of the intimidating Big Man, a figure who was too awkward to attend his own prom but ended up with a reputation for sleeping with just about any groupie with a pulse, and a ball hog who once put up 100 points in a game but only has two championships to his name.
The film, directed by Rob Ford and Christopher Dillon, mostly paints Chamberlain as a gentle giant, a towering figure in more ways than one.
“He was our first rock ‘n’ roll superstar,” Garnett says in the docuseries with the kind of high spirits he used to display after sinking a winning shot for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Garnett is one of the project’s executive producers, joining an impressive list of basketball superstars who have gone Hollywood. Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Curry are all churning out documentaries that often pay tribute to their idols.
“I think players like LeBron are curious about those that came before them,” former Minnesota Golden Gophers standout Trent Tucker said in a recent phone interview. “What was life like for them? What were their accommodations like? How much money did they make? They want to hear those great stories.”
But these documentaries would only be vanity projects if viewers weren’t also obsessed with the sport.
Basketball lends itself to storytelling better than any other major sport, which explains why HBO had a big hit with “Winning Time,” a miniseries which imagines that the major contributors to the L.A. Lakers’ 1980s dynasty were just as ruthless as any character on “Succession.” The best thing John Stamos has done since “Full House” is “Big Shot,” the Disney+ series in which he plays a former NCAA coach assigned to a high school girls’ team. “Air,” which looks at Jordan’s revolutionary shoe deal, has a 92 percent rating on the movie and TV website Rotten Tomatoes.
“Basketball is an intimate game. It brings you much closer to the action than other sports,” said Tucker. “You get to see all the players’ emotions. There are no masks.”
We also get to know NBA stars better than other athletes in large part because the league is less likely to discourage them from sharing their views.
In “Goliath,” we learn how Chamberlain and Russell forced the league to delay a playoff game so they could attend Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.
“Players have the freedom to express themselves. That’s good for the game and the fans,” Tucker said. “If a player believes in the same things you do, it makes it easier to connect with him.”