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Get ready for the NBA playoffs and stream the best basketball documentaries today

These documentaries about basketball tell the stories behind the world's greatest NBA stars

Michael Jordan in The Last Dance
ESPN

Basketball is a worldwide phenomenon. 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 Max, basketball fans have been able to binge their educational movies about the NBA and college basketball for many years now. The market for basketball documentaries continues to grow, and it seems more 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.

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals (2010)

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals
88m
Genre
Documentary, Drama
Stars
Larry Bird, Liev Schreiber, Magic Johnson
Directed by
Ezra Edelman
Watch on Amazon
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 when the NBA Finals were tape-delayed and the 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.

Untold: Malice at the Palace (2021)

Untold: Malice at the Palace
69m
Genre
Documentary, Crime
Stars
Jermaine O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Stephen Jackson
Directed by
Floyd Russ
Watch on Netflix
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.

The Redeem Team (2022)

The Redeem Team
98m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony
Directed by
Jon Weinbach
Watch on Netflix
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.

The Last Dance (2020)

The Last Dance
9.1/10
tv-ma
1 Season
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman
Created by
Michael Tollin
Watch on ESPN
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: Minority of One (2015)

Kareem: Minority of One
89m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Liev Schreiber, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson
Directed by
Aaron Cohen
Watch on HBO Max
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 because LeBron James has surpassed his all-time scoring record.

38 at the Garden (2022)

38 at the Garden
38m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Jeremy Lin, Hasan Minhaj, Lisa Ling
Directed by
Frank Chi
Watch on HBO Max
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.

Disgraced (2017)

Disgraced
102m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Carlton Dotson, Patrick Dennehy, Dave Bliss
Directed by
Pat Kondelis
Watch on Paramount+
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.

Hoop Dreams (1994)

Hoop Dreams
174m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
William Gates, Arthur Agee, Gene Pingatore
Directed by
Steve James
Watch on Paramount+
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.

The Year of the Yao (2004)

The Year of the Yao
88m
Genre
Documentary
Directed by
James D. Stern, Adam Del Deo
Watch on Amazon
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.

Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot (2014)

Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot
106m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Dirk Nowitzki, Holger Geschwinder, Kobe Bryant
Directed by
Sebastian Dehnhardt
Watch on Amazon
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.

Bad Boys (2014)

Bad Boys
102m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, John Salley
Directed by
Zak Levitt
Watch on ESPN
The documentary Bad Boys dives into the story of the Detroit Pistons during their late 1980s and early 1990s reign. It details the transformation of the Pistons from a struggling team to a dominant force. The documentary explores how they earned the nickname “Bad Boys” because of their physical, in-your-face style of play. The film profiles the iconic players who made up the team, including Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, and Rick Mahorn. It also highlights the leadership of head coach Chuck Daly, who helped shape their strategy. It recaps the Pistons’ journey to winning back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. It doesn’t shy away from the controversies surrounding their tactics and some of the heated rivalries they faced. Bad Boys examines the lasting impact of this team on the NBA. It explores how their gritty style of play influenced the league and paved the way for future teams.
Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek, Quote.com, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
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