John Spano was supposed to save the New York Islanders. A team mired in a ton of poor decisions, from the players on the ice to the management choices at the top, they had quickly turned from legendary dynasty at the start of the 80’s to the laughingstock of the NHL. And rightfully so.
They even messed with tradition, trading out the iconic Islanders logo for the new fisherman jersey in the mid-90’s, leaving fans crying out for changes all the way through the organization.
But there was a problem.
He had no money.
As always, ESPN manages to tell a really interesting story here in their 30 for 30 series. Big Shot lets us know how a man could possibly buy a professional sports franchise without any capital, and in the meantime, lets us behind the scenes into the minds of the long-suffering Islander fans, and their further dashed hopes of organizational stability.
Directed by Entourage alum and Islander die-hard fan Kevin Connolly, they story in Big Shot is solid. He goes back to tell the tales of the making of the team, and their rapid and sad fall from grace. The buffoonery of the 90’s is brought out with candid interviews with key players, like Mad Mike Millbury, and Spano himself. It weaves an interesting story, of how he actually did manage to gain control of the team, based on lies and promised bank loans, lame excuses, and really, only a $17,000 deposit on the team. It tells us the story about how it really is more important to know rich and important people than it is to be a rich and important person yourself.
This series is so consistent in its level of storytelling. A fan of the New York Islanders myself, the subject area is definitely of interest, even if this is not the best 30 for 30 out there. One of the major flaws is Connolly himself. While he proves adept at putting together a documentary, telling the story, and directing it, his major flaw was using himself as a narrator. Not that he was terrible, and his personal connection to the Isles definitely added to the story, but his voice just doesn’t sound…right for the part. Although this is only a superficial complaint, it really did take a little bit away from the story, hearing him jump in with his stories. It was hard not to picture Eric chiding Vince on screwing up another movie role on Entourage.
Besides that, you get what you expect here: another great behind-the-scenes look at a strange moment in sports history. The Islanders still have not fully recovered from their disastrous 90’s, and only with their impending move to Brooklyn next year is there a glimmer of hope for the franchise to truly begin turning things around.
For fans of hockey, this one should definitely be high on the list of great stories from the series, if only because there aren’t that many stories about hockey.