Basketball is a worldwide phenomenon in 2023. The sport that started as a desperate idea from Canadian-American physical education teacher James Naismith has evolved into a cultural touchstone for kids and adults alike all over the planet as well as an excellent workout. Some of the most famous celebrities on Earth have played basketball, from Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Magic Johnson. The vibrant personalities and stories behind these prominent basketball figures have led to keen public curiosity about their upbringings, their struggles, and their internal triumphs.
This is where documentary filmmaking comes into the equation. With the influx of streaming on platforms such as Netflix and HBO Max, basketball fans have been able to binge their educational movies about the NBA and college basketball for many years now. The market for these documentaries continues to grow, and it seems more basketball players and coaches are getting their own films. It’s time to look at 10 of the best documentaries about basketball you can get your hands on right now!
Whether you’re a longtime fan of the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics, or if you’re new to the rivalry, this documentary on the storied careers of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson is sure to thrill and inspire you. These two men are credited with garnering widespread support for the NBA during a time that the NBA Finals were tape delayed and commissioner David Stern was attempting to rid the league of drug addiction. This documentary goes into great detail about the most famous player rivalry the sport has ever seen, including interviews with teammates and coaches of both players.
It’s not hyperbolic to say that the brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers during an early 2003–04 season game between the Eastern Conference competitors almost ruined the NBA’s reputation forever. This documentary is one of the best basketball movies on Netflix, as it sheds more light on the thoughts and aftermath of the fight that saw Pacers’ forwards Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson go into the stands and assault fans at the game. Safety procedures and police presence at basketball games have been heightened in the two decades since this incident.
For almost a decade between 1992 and 2000, the United States Men’s National Team was a sure-thing to win the gold medal at the Olympic Games in basketball. After a bronze medal win in Athens in 2004, the Americans were determined to return to glory in China in 2008. This documentary interviews the incredible talent of the group nicknamed “The Redeem Team” and how they regained international respect behind the performances of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and many others destined for the hall of fame.
Michael Jordan is arguably the most famous basketball player ever. His aura still hangs over the NBA two decades after his retirement, and the Chicago Bulls franchise has never been the same since he left. This 10-episode documentary event that originally aired during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic gave basketball fans a way to forget about the world’s events for a couple of hours every Sunday night. Three years later, it remains an incredible achievement in documentary filmmaking. Some might argue that Jordan had too much control over what got put into the series, but there’s so much good stuff for basketball fans to revel in that the inherent bias doesn’t matter.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a victim of racism, vandalism, and more tragedy throughout his life, is a towering figure in NBA history. He’s also very misunderstood. This documentary gives basketball fans a new perspective on one of the game’s best, albeit controversial, personalities. Kareem is now known for his work in social justice and political activism and has been in the news recently due to LeBron James surpassing his all-time scoring record.
The NBA usually only spotlights superstar players, but this documentary reminisces about the hot streak by New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin, who turned into an icon back in 2012. The NBA doesn’t have much Asian American representation, so this film helps to hone in on the massive influence Lin had on people who look like him, inspiring an entire generation of Asian Americans to follow their basketball dreams.
College basketball is ripe with scandal and horror throughout its history; therefore, this story on the murder of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy fits right into the mold of what fans of the sport have come to expect. Corruption, cover-ups, and tragedy are examined to perfection in this movie, giving viewers information on a story that never got the coverage it might have otherwise if it had happened during the social media era.
Time to go into the way-back machine for this legendary documentary achievement! Sports are sometimes the only way out of a troubled childhood, and Hoop Dreams follows this exact scenario in the lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee. The film is almost three hours long, but this is a fraction of the 250 hours of footage that director Steve James compiled across five years of making the documentary. You’ll be sure to walk away inspired and ready to look at the cultural impact of basketball in an entirely different way after watching this film.
Yao Ming remains one of the biggest anomalies in the history of sports. Towering over his competition at 7’6”, Yao was culturally significant to Asian basketball fans from the second he stepped foot on a basketball court. This film gives a deeper look into his journey to stardom and a way for basketball fans to appreciate the global nature of the game we all love.
Dirk Nowitzki is an iconic German basketball hall of famer who dominated the game during the 2000s, a decade in which he had to compete with the likes of Shaquille O’ Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett. This documentary informs fans about Nowitzki’s upbringing in Europe and his unique path to basketball lore, especially his relationship with his trainer, Holger Geschwindner.
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