Following the pandemic, we’re all grateful for live sports to be back in our lives in a semi-normal way. Of course, there are still some COVID-related obstacles, but the games are back on, fans are in the crowds, and online sportsbooks are once again accepting wagers.
But of course, there’s always time to look back on some of the great stories in the history of sports. Luckily, there are tons of great sports documentaries to sift through if you want to learn more about the history of the game.
The Last Dance – Netflix
Perhaps the most obvious pick imaginable for a list like this, director Jason Hehir’s magnum opus on the Michael Jordan-led Bulls dynasty of the 1990s took the world by storm during the early days of the pandemic. With no live sports around, The Last Dance became what we turned to instead.
It certainly lives up to the hype. With exclusive footage from the team’s final championship season in 1998, a litany of interviews with everyone from members of the team to former Presidents of the United States, and unfettered access to Jordan himself, The Last Dance has unprecedented insight into one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sports.
The Last Dance was nominated for 3 Emmy awards and took home the prize for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.
All or Nothing – Amazon Prime Video
There’s nothing quite like getting insight into how a team really works. Amazon Prime Video’s All or Nothing provides viewers with the chance to go behind-the-scenes of a team over the course of the season and see how they fare through triumph and tragedy.
With seasons featuring NFL, NHL, College Football, Soccer, and Rugby teams there’s something for sports fans of all tastes to enjoy here. In particular, I’m a huge fan of the season on the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham was in the midst of a very disappointing campaign, and their season shed a spotlight on how lightning rod new manager Jose Mourinho attempted to right the ship.
O.J.: Made in America – ESPN+
O.J.: Made in America is only technically a sports documentary. As much as this is an insight into the life and times of disgraced NFL Hall-of-Famer O.J. Simpson, it is equally a trenchant look into race relations in the US and specifically Los Angeles, and the circumstances that led to Simpson’s 1995 acquittal.
This 467-minute epic features interviews with numerous major players from the infamous trial, including Marcia Clark, Mark Fuhrman, and Fred Goldman, but not with the film’s subject.
O.J.: Made in America is widely considered to be the best 30 for 30 documentary ESPN has ever produced and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Diego Maradona – HBO Max
Diego Maradona is one of the greatest and most controversial figures in the history of the beautiful game. The late legend was known equally for his on-field heroics and his off-field antics.
Diego Maradona covers the time after his disappointing run with legendary Spanish side Barcelona through his triumphant run leading Napoli to a couple of Serie A league titles in Italy.
With arguably the greatest soccer player of all time passing away last fall, now is as good a time as any to revisit this insight helmed by Asif Kapadia, who has also directed the acclaimed documentaries, Senna and Amy.
Elway to Marino – ESPN+
If you’re a draftnik like me, hearing the inside scoop on some of the biggest decisions that have shaped the NFL is fascinating. Few events in the history of the sport have been more consequential than the 1983 NFL Draft.
This year, John Elway famously refused to be drafted by the Baltimore Colts and eventually ended up landing with the Denver Broncos. The six quarterbacks picked in the first round included Elway and fellow Hall-of-Famers Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
Elway to Marino is par for the course with many sports documentaries you’ve probably seen before. It doesn’t have the access of The Last Dance or the cultural commentary of O.J.: Made in America, but hearing directly from the people involved in one of the most important days in NFL history will always be fascinating.
Honorable Mention: 7 Days in Hell – HBO Max
This mockumentary starring Andy Samberg and Kit Harington is a hilarious take on the sports documentary. Once you’ve devoured some of the more serious documentaries above, I think you’ll appreciate the laugh you get from this one.