Basketball is at the center of popular culture. The growing global sport dances in harmony with the biggest celebs, the hottest music, and the next business innovations constantly — and effortlessly, we might add.
But how did the game get to this point? Years and years of key individuals and major events is the answer. To help gain a better understanding of basketball’s rise, we’ve rounded up some of the best basketball documentaries that show the impact of the game on the court, and off it. We love the state of basketball right now, and if you don’t agree with us, you will after watching these awesome sport films.
Winner of an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary Series, The Last Dance has proven itself as one of basketball’s top films. This sport documentary follows Michael Jordan at the height of his stardom throughout the entire 1997-98 season—a season that would also be known as his last run to the finals with the Chicago Bulls. It’s got original footage, fresh stories from a number of players and coaches, and an inside look into the mind of Jordan 20 years later. The Last Dance is a documentary for new fans of the game as much as it is for lifelong fans.
- Director: Jason Hehir
- Run Time: 50 minutes per episode
- IMDB Rating: 9.1/10
Released in 1994 and directed by Steve James, Hoop Dreams follows the journey of two high-school students in Chicago — Williams Gates and Arthur Agee — who are striving to achieve a career in professional basketball. There are themes of race, class, education, and American culture. Famed critic Roger Ebert gave Hoop Dreams “two thumbs up” after its initial premiere, and in 2005, the documentary was a part of the 25 annual films added by the Library of Congress to the National Film Registry.
- Director: Steve James
- Run Time: 2hr 52min
- IMDB Rating: 8.3/10
Iverson tells the story of Allen Iverson’s rise from his impoverished hometown in Hampton, Virginia to become the NBA’s biggest superstar. Everything from AI’s style of play to his fashion, to his swagger, has impacted the way the game is played today. Without him, the close-knit relationship between hip-hop culture and basketball would probably look completely different today.
- Director: Zatella Beatty
- Run Time: 1hr 28min
- IMDB Rating: 7.1/10
The Other Dream Team covers the improbable advancement of Lithuania’s national basketball team at the 1992 Summer Olympics. While the USA Dream Team went on to beat them in the semifinal and go on to win gold, Lithuania’s success at the games represented a story of their new political beginnings in their split from the Soviet Union. The documentary features old footage combined with new interviews from former players, and it even accesses the current state of basketball in the Eastern European country. Oh, and you’re wondering about the trippy tye-dye jerseys, there’s a Grateful Dead connection to them — but you’ll have to watch to find out the full story.
- Director: Marius A. Markevicius
- Run Time: 1hr 30min
- IMDB Rating: 8.4/10
A film festival favorite, Doin’ It In The Park is an independent documentary focusing on New York City’s pick-up basketball scene in the summer. Directors Robert Garcia and Kevin Couliau follow some of the city’s hottest street ball spots while also exploring the cultural significance of this style of play. If you ever wonder what the next level of competition looks like outside of the games at your local YMCA, this provides you with the knowledge and then some.
- Director:Robert Garcia, Kevin Couliau
- Run Time: 1hr 23min
- IMDB Rating: 7.4/10
There are a zillion 30 for 30 ESPN documentaries we could recommend, but the basketball film that holds the most significance might be the story of the Chicago native Ben Wilson, aka Benji. Wilson was on his way to becoming the game’s next biggest player after being named the top high-school prospect in 1984. Tragedy struck only months later, as Wilson was shot in a dispute with another individual. Wilson died at the young age of 17. Benji explores the struggles many aspiring athletes go through to this day, and it features commentary on what could’ve been if Wilson had had a full career in the NBA.
- Director: Coodie Simmons, Chike Ozah
- Run Time: 1hr 19min
- IMDB Rating: 7.4/10
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