The end of the summer is a slow time for professional sports. Pennant races are heating up in Major League Baseball, but there’s not much going on with the other major sports. The NFL is still weeks away from kickoff of the regular season, the NBA doesn’t start until the weather turns a bit chilly, and the first NHL puck isn’t dropped until around the same time. So what’s a sports fan to do when most major sports are still in the offseason? We suggest catching up on some of the best sports documentaries ever, especially if you’ve already blown through all of the best sports movies of all time.
The ironic thing about sports documentaries is that the actual outcomes of the games often take a backseat to the stories of the players involved. Of course, the final scores matter, but not as much as the players, coaches, and fans involved in the outcome. As humans, we want the stories and not the box scores. We want to cheer for the underdog and watch in amazement as athletes perform at a level millions of people will never reach.
Just like every team can’t hoist the Lombardi Trophy and not every golfer gets to slip on the green jacket, several great sports documentaries, unfortunately, didn’t make this list. That doesn’t mean they’re not notable films with riveting stories, but even in the game of list-making, some participants end up losing.
Best Sport Documentary Series
While compiling this list of the best sports documentaries ever, we stuck to mostly films and not documentary series. Though we’ve included fantastic documentary series such as The Last Dance and other installments of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series here.
ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts (2012)
ESPN’s 30 for 30 isn’t a single documentary, but rather a series of some of the best sports documentaries ever made. Here, you will find documentaries — 157 of them and counting — that highlight interesting, profound, and untold details and backstories in sports history. Some of our favorites include:
- The U: This is arguably one of ESPN’s best 30 for 30 episodes, diving into what went down at the University of Miami between 1983 and 1991. As racial and cultural tensions overwhelmed the city of Miami, the University of Miami’s football team ushered in a new era of recruiting, swagger, and “bad boy” success on one of the country’s biggest stages.
- Survive and Advance: This documentary takes an in-depth look at the late Jim Valvano, commonly known as Jimmy V, as he led the North Carolina State Wolfpack basketball team through a nine overtime, one-point games in 1983. It’s a story that shares how one of the biggest underdogs overcame all odds en route to one of the unlikeliest victories of all time, the 1983 Division 1 Men’s Basketball championship.
- The Two Escobars: The Two Escobars revisits an undisclosed marriage of crime and sport, shedding light on the rise of the Colombian national soccer team and its intersection with the country’s drug cartel-fueled murders of the time. The connecting point? Colombia’s captain, Andrés Escobar, and his brother, the infamous cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar. This documentary investigates the astounding connections between the two men, their murders, and their impact on Colombia.
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