5 sports documentaries to watch other than The Last Dance

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Ryan Murphy

May 12th, 2020

Thank god for The Last Dance. Jason Hehir’s mesmerizing documentary about Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls has filled a sports vacuum created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 10-part series has already been viewed more than 27 million times, and has received a dazzling 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fortunately The Last Dance isn’t the only sports documentary available. Here are five more intriguing films to help you pass the time until North America’s pro sports leagues return to action.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Netflix)

It’s asking a lot for a film to live up to a name like The Battered Bastards of Baseball, but Chapman and Maclain Way’s rollicking documentary absolutely delivers. The 80-minute flick tells the larger-than-life tale of the Portland Mavericks, an independent minor league baseball team owned by Hollywood character actor Bing Russell, and featuring his son, Kurt, as the team’s DH and Vice President.

The Mavericks had open tryouts, a female general manager, and one of the most colorful rosters ever assembled. Their stories alone would be enough to carry the film, but Portland was also a damn fine team that won a pair of championships in 1973 and 1977 and broke minor league attendance records.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with professional baseball these days, but The Battered Bastards of Baseball succinctly captures everything that’s right. Every minute is infused with the true joy and spirit of the game.

Icarus (Netflix)

Looking for something with a little more gravitas? Look no further than Icaraus. What begins as a small-time investigation into doping in amateur cycling turns into an international expose after filmmaker Bryan Fogel connects with Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory.

The pair forms an unlikely bond, and before long, Rodchenkov spills the beans about Russia’s clandestine state-sponsored Olympic doping program. His surprising revelations bring down an entire nation and turn Icarus into an all-out cloak and dagger thriller where danger lurks around every corner.

Icarus was widely hailed as one of the most stunning films of the year and went on to win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Hoop Dreams (Amazon)

Hoop Dreams was an instant classic when it was released in 1994, and remains every bit as relevant more than 25 years later. The ambitious 171-minute documentary follows Chicago high school students William Gates and Arthur Agee for eight years as they pursue their dream of playing in the NBA. It’s honest, inspiring, and ultimately heartbreaking as hell.

Hoops Dreams earned closed to $12 million at the box office and became just the second documentary film ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

No No: A Dockumentary (Amazon)

By now you’ve surely heard how Pittsburgh Pirates ace Dock Ellis once pitched a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. It’s one of the greatest stories in major league history, and one of the few tales that appeals equally to stoners and seamheads alike.

However, you may not know much about the man himself. No No: A Dockumentary delves deeply into Ellis’ life and times and finds a complex figure who overcame racial oppression and a crippling fear of failure to become one of the game’s biggest stars. The supplemental interviews and music from Adam Horowitz are nice touches, but the charismatic Ellis is the unquestioned star of the show as he reflects upon the most improbable accomplishment of his big league career.

Fastball (Amazon)

There are few things more satisfying than the sound of a fastball as it pops into a catcher’s mitt. Director Jonathan Hock understands that better than most, which is why he created an 87-minute long documentary dedicated to baseball’s most glamorous pitch.

Field of Dreams star Kevin Costner narrates the action as Hock and a team of decorated scientists try to determine who threw the fastest pitch of all time. It may sound like a simple undertaking, but dozens of variables have to be taken into account when considering ball construction and mound heights from different eras. Hock also digs into some of the suspect methods used to measure the heaters of Hall of Fame hurlers like Walter Johnson and Bob Feller.

Interviews with Derek Jeter, Nolan Ryan, and Justin Verlander keep things lively as the film rockets towards its surprising conclusion.

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