In all of the awesomeness that has been "The Last Dance" docuseries on ESPN, I began thinking - what other awesome sports docuseries would I make appointment television? For the record, I already love these kinds of series. I'm a huge fan of "Last Chance U" and "QB1" on Netflix, and of course, will soon be diving into "Cheer" once I work my way through my quarantine-life bucket lists. So yeah, these series are of interest to me, no matter the celebrity of the subject matter.
What if we are able to go back in time, and give the same type of ALL-ACCESS rights for cameras, recordings, and talking-head shots to any specific team and season - just like The Last Dance? Well, if this were possible (and it's fun to think about), here is my list of TOP 10 seasons I would be very much interested in watching, dissecting, and digesting.
10. 2004 Los Angeles Lakers - Ah yes, the END of the Shaq and Kobe (or Kobe and Shaq?) era. Losing in 2003 to the eventual champions, San Antonio Spurs, a loss that ended their chances at a fourth consecutive title, the Lakers added aging Hall of Famers, Gary Payton and Karl Malone to an already impressive roster. What we now learned years later are stories of the Kobe-Shaq dilemma/feud, the franchise having to eventually choose between the two, Phil (once again) coaching a "Last Dance", Karl Malone being the hardest working teammate, and an eventual loss to the ultimate anomaly of NBA Champions, the 2003-2004 Detroit Pistons. That season is compelling, and really, one that is rarely discussed among what really could have been if it all stayed together.
9. 2009 New York Yankees - You know, this Yankee team is probably the most underrated championship team in the franchise's history. That sounds incredibly uppity for a team with 27 titles, but it's very true. Again, "uppity" alert - it stands alone in a timeline of clustered championships. I read "Mission 27" by Mark Feinsand within the last year, and what you learn (and really remember) is all of the crazy dynamics that was that team - old guard (Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada) vs. new guard (Sabathia, Damon, Burnett, Garnder, and Swisher); EVERYTHING that was A-Rod - his awkwardness, suspension, and "finding himself" moment - especially the baggage with Jeter; Cashman's drive (very Jerry Krouse-like) to prove he could do it again, and that it's organizational; and of course, the end of an era for many involved. It would really make for a great docuseries, with some awesome personalities.
8. 1986 New York Mets - You might be shocked to see this on the list from this Yankees fan, but the 1986 Mets were absolutely crazy. And for me, VERY intriguing. A look into the phenomenons (and missed potential) that were Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry; the underrated leadership of Keith Hernandez; oh yes, the insane 80's mantra of drugs (sooooo much cocaine!) and partying; the pride that went into that team defensively; and of course, the dynamic of wrestling New York City away from the Yankees - I would be glued.
7. 2001 San Francisco Giants - First, just give me all-access, unedited Barry Bonds preparing and going about that historic season of 73 home runs. That alone is a hook for this. And then there was everything else that was the circus around it, the fights among the team (looking at you Jeff Kent!), the clash with the media, and doing it all while trying to chase a title - something that has alluded Bonds' resume. You know what's even more intriguing? Michael Jordan is often admired for his fierce competitiveness and was given a pass on being a jerk for "pursuing greatness". If you dive into Bonds, he was consumed with being the best - and that drive has been repeated in many books and interviews as what led him to - ahem, use you know what. This would be a great insight as the steroid era moves further and further away.
6. 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers - If there is one thing The Last Dance has underlyingly done, is shed some light on the greatness of LeBron James (I'll touch on that in another post). But THIS season is EVERYTHING that encompasses LeBron's career. The move back to Cleveland. The constant scrutiny. The always-there-comparisons to Jordan. The struggle for help (that is perceived as organic and not constructed), the career-defining play (the block on Iguodala), not being clutch (Kyrie Irving hitting the big shot, and not him) and one of the greatest comebacks in sports history - defeating the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. There is so much to unpack in this one.
5. 2019 United States Women's National Soccer Team - This one could get reaaaally dicey. And admittedly, it may not be for everyone. It'll surely get political, and it will definitely be rooted in a HUGE chip the ladies from the 2019 USWNT used to drive them to win, to dominate, and prove their platform for greatness, for equality, and for their voice to be heard. Personally, I loved a lot about this team, as it carried collectively a lot of that obsessive drive Jordan always had/has. But it carried so much more off the field as well.
4. 2017 Houston Astros - Surprised? I want to see everything - EVERYTHING! How they cheated. How they cheated baseball. How they cheated so many fanbases out of a possible title in 2017. How they disrespected the game!! How they robbed my Yankees!!! How they stole an MVP for Aaron Judge!!!!! All of their ridiculousness cover-up excuses!!!!! Who knew about it?!!!!! Okay, I'll calm down. But seriously, a deep, dark look into how they did this would be suuuuuuuuper interesting.
3. 1942 Homestead Grays - I love researching and reading about the Negro Leagues. I urge baseball fans to do it - you'll realize how skewed MLB history really is. One thing you'll quickly learn is how much the current game got from the Negro Leagues (on the field and from a business perspective), and that were many names and ballplayers who never got their opportunity for greatness. From podcasts, book, and interviews, you constantly hear former Negro League players saying things such as - "Ruth was good, but he would've hit 5th or 6th in our League". Or "Jackie's mental toughness is why he broke the barrier. He was a tremendous athlete, but we had better ballplayers thank Jackie". Heck, its documented from Hank Aaron himself. And of course, there was and is the hidden historic gem that was catcher, Josh Gibson.
Anyway, a sneak peek into the Negro Leagues, and the dynasty that was the Washington Homestead Grays and their nine championships would be epic. Just to see the inner workings of the Negro Leagues, their thought process, how they viewed the Major Leagues and integration, and so much more, alone would carry this series. And of course, some insight into possibly the greatest player to never be heard of - Josh Gibson.
2. 2016 United States Gymnastics Team (The Final Five) - I imagine this one would be SO good because of the emotions it would give the viewer. Anger. Triumph. Pride. Sadness. And everything in between. The dominance at the 2016 Olympics by the Final Five - Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and Aly Raismann - will forever be remembered. A docuseries on all of these ladies, their training, sacrifices, and collective dominance leading into that Olympics; the budding greatness of Simone Biles; the extremely immoral and corrupt US Gymnastics - sexual abuse, mental abuse, pay discrepancies, lost childhoods, and so much more, is everything you want in an awesome docuseries, but most importantly, for the truth to be told.
1. 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers - Look, the film, 42, was alright. I've never gone crazy over the film like others. I just felt like the movie downplayed what really happened. I'm jaded, I guess. To me, it is often too similar to how slavery, the holocaust, concentration camps, civil rights times, etc... are depicted or thought of in films, documentaries, and coverages. 42, and much of what is percieved in the general public just doesn't scratch the surface of what he went through - like REALLY went through. We diminish the true celebration by not being exposed to what they holistically overcome and believed - it's how celebration narratives are often changed.
"He did so much for the game" is the worst kind of response to Jackie Robinson, and Jackie Robinson Day, every April 15th. It's so shallow. And of course, there are those who oppose Black Lives Matter issues or civil protests (including of the kneeling kind) for equality and justice, just to tout what Robinson meant to them, and clamor for photos with statues, memorials, and tributes at your nearby baseball stadium. It doesn't add up.
But I'll jump off my tremendously tall soap box now...
Back to the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers.
I would LOVE to see a raw, unedited, uncensored docuseries with access from what he experienced. I want to see the depths of every racial bias; I want to hear and cringe with every "nigger" thrown his way; I want to watch every dirty play on the field; I want to peek in on his experience on the road; I want to feel the moments his teammates and loved ones stood up for him in the moment of injustices; I want to hear his thoughts on the "stars" of the league (and some of the legends we hold up) who wanted to him out; and his thoughts on American culture pertaining to race, oppression, and equality - and yes, his belief, as a former military-served individual, in protesting the national anthem throughout his life (imagine, that?).
I also want access to Branch Rickey, Pee Wee Reese, and so many of his Brooklyn Dodger teammates. I want footage of his support of Brooklyn, a place he eventually called home. I want to hear MORE from Rachel Robinson and their kids. I want more than just black guy gets accepted by not-so-bad whites during misunderstood and "forgiven" times, and we all come together for baseball.
There have been many features on Jackie Robinson - some really good (Jackie's autobiography and Ken Burns' miniseries on Jackie Robinson), some, eh ( like, 42, ugh...) - but something like this would absolutely be epic, and would give everyone a greater sense of what he accomplished. Which is already A LOT.