30 for 30: Bad Boys (Film Review)

30 for 30: Bad Boys (Film Review)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the 30 for 30 documentary about the Detroit Pistons championship teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s, entitled Bad Boys, is the dynasties that they needed to overcome in order to become champions, and legends, themselves.

The Pistons, a scrappy bunch of players that became renowned for their toughness and nearly brutal play, slowly got better over the years, but where faced with overcoming some of the greatest teams in NBA history. To even make it to the Finals, they had to get through the legendary Boston Celtics teams led by Larry Bird. If they did get past them, they were faced with the other dynasty in the league at the time, the Los Angeles Lakers during the height of Magic Johnson. No easy feat.

badboysEven when they managed to overcome these teams, there were other obstacles. Including a little team from Chicago that was led by the most dominant player in the game, Michael Jordan. The route the Pistons had to take to win their back-to-back titles was not an easy one. It was tough from the beginning, just as they were as a team.

Bad Boys takes us on the journey of Detroit starting as a laughingstock in the league, a place where nobody wanted to play. But it was one draft pick, Isiah Thomas, that changed everything. Slowly, the team built themselves up, through a ton of trades, some free agent signings, and more solid draft picks (like Joe Dumars). Eventually, a monster was created, and the Pistons became perhaps the toughest team in the history of the league. People hated them, thought they were dirty, and goons. Which was completely fine with all of the players on the team.

If you were thinking about them and their rough play before taking the court, then they had already won. The game of the Pistons was at times more psychological than physical. But the physical was there. They abused superstars, forced legends to their breaking points, and made teams pay for every point that was scored against them.

And it made them almost unbeatable for a time, cementing their place in history in an era that had been dominated by Bird and Magic, and was soon to be completely owned by Jordan and the Bulls.

30 for 30: Bad Boys provides the background to the team, and it is interesting to see how their relationships all worked. Their personalities did not always mesh, but they always had a common goal: to win, and to be the best.

Talent-wise, these Pistons were not the greatest. There was definitely skill, but it was their hard work that made them the best.

badboys3Hearing the behind-the-scenes clashes and issues that the team had, their true opinions of themselves and their opponents, is another feather in the cap of the ESPN series. They have managed to get good, and honest, interviews from the players that lived that experience, and they reflect back on their time as the champs with glee. They took pride in being hated, of being the bad boys of the league, and of being able to instill fear into the hearts of others. The segments with Bill Laimbeer were truly great.

Had it not been for these Pistons teams, perhaps Jordan would have never learned what it took to be a champion, to understand the physical abuse that had to be taken in order to be the best.

Regardless of their impact on others, the Pistons deserve their own spot in history/infamy, because they did win the title in back to back years, after falling short in their first trip to the Finals. Their struggle was intense, and endeared them to an entire city that needed someone to embrace at the time.

Yet another winner in the 30 for 30 series.

30 for 30: Big Shot (Film Review)

30 for 30: Big Shot (Film Review)

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.

bigshotSpano, a business man from Dallas, stepped up and was going to buy the team, keep them on Long Island, and return them to the form of their glory days.

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.

30Besides 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.

30 for 30: Elway to Marino (Film Review)

30 for 30: Elway to Marino (Film Review)

One thing that has been consistent with sports television over the past while is that ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is always good. Almost regardless of the topic, they have come up with interesting stories, and turned them into full documentary films, all of which have proven to be interesting, and at times, incredibly well done.

30Another entry into the lexicon of the series is Elway to Marino, the story of the fabled 1983 NFL draft, that produced a crazily high number of legendary players, and featured six quarterbacks being taken. Three of those six would end up as legends, and in the Hall of Fame in Canton.

The story here really shows us as viewers the behind-the-scenes dealings during the draft. Elway had made it no secret that he didn’t want to play for the terrible Baltimore Colts, and their dodgy owner. Regardless, the Colts drafted Elway with the first overall pick, and the intrigue began.

It was really interesting to hear about all of the deals that had been proposed, and failed, during the first round picks. There were several teams that were interested in Elway, and several of them made some very serious offers. The intrigue comes from how many times he was almost traded, but different things got in the way: the owner nixed the deal, the league interfered, a star quarterback caved to pressure and resigned, the offers were confused, the offers were never quite enough. If Elway had ended up on any of the teams that had tried to get him, it would have reshaped the league for quite some time. Elway as a Raider? Or Charger? Or Bear? Or would Elway, the California golden boy, just pout his way out of the league and end up playing baseball for the New York Yankees? The backroom dealings provide some of the most interesting parts of the documentary.

With the other quarterbacks, there was also some cool stories. We always think of Jim Kelly being a hero in Buffalo, the place where he spent his entire career and led the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances. But hearing him discuss how crushed he was to be drafted by them created another layer to his story.

303As for Marino, one of the all-time great quarterbacks, who left behind him a list of league records upon his retirement, he experienced a tremendous fall during his senior year at Pitt. Having a poor season, he fell all the way to the Miami Dolphins, who were able to grab him near the end of the first round. Stories of potential (and never proven) drug use, as well as his poor season, scuttled Marino’s reputation, and left him as the last QB standing in the draft. Of course, mistakes were made, such as the NY Jets taking Ken O’Brien (out of a Division II school!) ahead of Marino. But it is such stories in which legends are made.

The documentary succeeds in revealing the stories that took place over the phone, and behind closed doors, drawing us into the amazing draft, and the fallout that followed it. Interviews with the people involved, some GMs, some owners, and the players themselves, does what 30 for 30 always does: lets us, the casual sports fan, behind-the-scenes of something amazing, just to see just how much more amazing it really was.

Elway to Marino is another winning documentary from ESPN, and for those who are fans of the series, it definitely is one not to miss.