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30 for 30 review: Big Shot

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(Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film or if you don’t know the story).

We havn’t done a review of a 30-for-30 documentary in a while because, well, it had been since April since one was released.  Now there’s been a whole bunch that premiered this month, and we’re catching up.

Here’s some quick thoughts on Big Shot, the story of John Spano‘s incredible story of financial fraud and duplicity that enabled him to “purchase” and control the New York Islanders hockey franchise for a brief period in the mid 1990s.  This film was directed and narrated by Kevin Connelly, better known as the character “E” from the HBO show Entourage.  Connelly grew up on Long Island, is a lifelong Islanders fan, and had intimately followed this entire story during his childhood.

On the whole, I did not think this was one of ESPN’s best films.  I disagreed with Bill Simmons‘ effusive praise to Connelly when they appeared on his podcast The B.S. Report, though in fairness it could have been a case of “stroking the ego” of the star.  Connelly should have gotten a professional narrator; his voice overs were amateurish and lacked the proper cadence for a serious documentary.  The film was 1.5 hours, probably 30 minutes too long for the story that it intended to tell.  Even with an hour and a half, there are basic details on Spano’s wikipedia page that went uncovered.   On the good side, the fact that Connelly got Spano on film (freshly released from his second stint in federal prison for financial fraud) really helps this story; I think back to the 30-for-30 piece on Allen Iverson that never featured the star player and the film comes of lacking.  Also, the wide list of interviews the film shows (including basically every player in the drama, including the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) gives the film a lot of credit.  The podcast interview goes into some detail about this: Spano was very hesitant to do the interviews until realizing it was 30-for-30; had this been any other documentary he likelihood of Spano’s character getting completely trashed was high.

The story itself is amazing; Spano got an $80Million loan with almost no due diligence on the bank’s part.  $80 million.  Think about how much paperwork you went through the last time you bought a house or a car or a business loan.  And, it is amazing to think about this story and see how close Spano really came to pulling it off; he was within a couple of days of finding someone to make his first $17M payment, and you’d have to think with a year to make the next payment he could have found a way to continue the charade.  Also amazing to think is this: he *owned” the team; the papers were signed despite the money not showing up.  Its like the analogy in the film; if you sign over the title of your car to some other guy … that’s HIS car, whether or not you got any money for it.  Spano could have made this really, really ugly for the league when push came to shove, despite Bettman’s hollow statements that “the league never would have let” Spano continue to hold the team.

The funny thing is this; if you leave out the clear fraud, the phony documents, etc; this transaction was almost like an old school leveraged buyout.  You get loans covering nearly the entire purchase price of a company, using that same company as leverage, and then make the loan payments from the coffers of the newly acquired company.  Think about how Malcolm Glazer obtained control over Manchester United: a very similar deal.  He “bought” his portion with tons of loans, put those loans on the books of the club, and financed the payments on the backs of the club’s profits.  Spano himself was halfway to a completely leveraged buy-out already, and came pretty close to taking at least the first step towards the next phase.

The team has never come close to returning to its early 1980s glory years; it has just one division crown since 1985.  It hasn’t advanced in the playoffs since 1993, and in the last 15 years had streaks of 8 and 5 straight playoff-less seasons.  Whether that has anything to do with the ownership snafus, bad luck with players, or (more likely) due to difficulties working with Nassau county officials over the years (a fact only alluded to in the film) getting needed stadium upgrades remains arguable.  As for Spano (as detailed in his wiki page), he got out of prison and was soon back for repeated financial fradulent behaviors.

All in all; a great story.  But the documentary left a bit to be desired.

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 30th, 2013 at 10:25 am

Washington is a “Football” town; what’s yours?

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(Editor’s Note: I first started writing this post in May of 2011, came back to it in August of 2012.  Suddenly in Feb of 2013 this whole post got “scooped” by Craig Calcaterra on HardballTalk.   Don’t you hate it when a post you’ve had in draft mode forever is essentially duplicated while you sit on it?   At least it gave me some reason to finish it and finally publish it).

In early 2011, After watching a re-run of “Four Days in October” of the fantastic 30-for-30 series I got to thinking about the “leading” sports obsession, per city, around the country.  There were numerous shots of the town of Boston, its fans, the bars, etc, and one clearly got the impression that Boston is a “Baseball town.”  This got me thinking: what is the Leading Sport in every pro town in America?

(coincidentally,  if you’re also a fan of the 30-for-30 series, I posted a review and ranking of all 30 original episodes in December 2010.  ESPN’s 30 for 30 site also has a ranking page where, after you vote, you can see the results.  I put in my own rankings on the Dec 2010 post, which I may re-publish at some point).

Here in Washington, clearly we are a Football town.  The Redskins are king; every local sports radio show dedicates large portions of its programming to the Redskins in season or out, because that’s what draws.  The other pro teams in town are of only passing interest to casual fans, are mostly followed by die-hards (like me and the Nationals of course), but if they have a run of success (as with the Capitals now and the Nationals in the first half of 2005 or in 2012) then suddenly they’re popular.  But Football will always be king here.  Some local sportswriters have mentioned the Jayson Werth walk-off in game 4 of last year’s NLDS as the moment that “Washington became a baseball town,” but I just don’t see it.

How about the other major sports towns in America?  I took every town that has 2 or more pro franchises (since obviously, if you live in Jacksonville with only one major franchise, the answer is usually pretty clear) and put my thoughts down.  Feel free to debate, criticize, or tell me I don’t know what i’m talking about.  The towns are listed by category, in descending market size.

Four (or more) Sports towns

1. New York: Baseball.  Despite having so many sports choices, I think the history and continued dominance of the Yankees makes NYC primarily a baseball town.  That’s not to say that a city of 8 million people doesn’t support its football, basketball or hockey teams, but none of the other NY-based franchises have consistently been as good or in the news as much as the Yankees.

2. Los Angeles: Basketball.  As with the Yankees of New York, the Lakers status as one of the marquee franchises (if not THE marquee franchise) of the NBA makes this a basketball town first and foremost.  The Dodgers have 50+ years of history in the town, but the Lakers rule.  Note; of all its major city counterparts, Los Angeles is also the closest to a “college town” that you’ll see.  USC and UCLA both have major sports programs, the area hosts the Rose Bowl every year, and other lesser sports schools such as Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, and Long Beach State all have had their moments in various college sports.

3. Chicago: Baseball (but open for debate).  The Baseball history is obvious, with both teams having 100+ years of history and the Cubs being one of the marquee franchises in the sport.  The Bulls clearly made the town a Basketball town for a sustained period of time, but I don’t get the impression they’ve supplanted the Cubs.  The Blackhawks are an Original Six hockey team, and the Chicago Bears have been around since the beginning of organized professional football (In fact, they won the first NFL championship in 1933).  So there’s a ton of sports history in this town.  But do the other sports supplant the baseball culture?

4. Philadelphia: Football.  The Phillies have re-made themselves into a dominant force in Baseball over the past few years (2012 notwithstanding), but nothing stokes the fire of Pennsylvanians as much as the E-A-G-L-E-S.

5. Dallas/Fort Worth: Football.  Can’t get much more important to a town’s psyche than the Cowboys.  Even if the Mavericks win a title and the Rangers make the World Series.

6. Miami: Football by attrition.  The South Florida populace is so irritated with Jeffrey Loria that they’ll probably never be baseball diehards.  The Heat?  LeBron is johnny-come-lately.  Hockey?  In a town where it never gets below 60?  Can’t see it.  In fact, Miami may really be the most apathetic sports town out there.  The rise of the U of Miami football team helped, but that fad has passed and Miami football barely draws any more.  I don’t think you’d really say that the town is crazy over its Dolphins, but is it crazy about any of its teams?

7. Washington: Football.  The Redskins rule (as discussed above), and the other teams are only of passing interest if they’re winning (which, in the Wizards case, hasn’t happened since the late 70s).

8. Detroit: Hockey.  The Red Wings are an institution, and they don’t call Detroit “Hockey Town, USA” for nothing.  The Tigers were a laughingstock for years, the Pistons had a slight run of glory under Isaiah Thomas, and the Lions are in the midst of a horrible period.  Even with Detroit’s run of glory in the past decade, the Red Wings keep on rolling.

9. Boston: Baseball. The hold the Red Sox have on the psyche of New Englanders in general is legendary.  Boston’s other teams have had sustained runs of greatness lately, and of course the Celtics rival the Lakers in terms of legendary franchises.  But if you have to pick one team I still think its the Red Sox.

10. Atlanta: Football, I think.  The Braves made the playoffs 15 straight years but the team couldn’t sell out its playoff games.  I don’t think the town really cares about its hockey or basketball teams that much (in fact, the Hockey team moved to Winnipeg).  How about the Falcons?  Does the rise and fall of the Falcons drive sports talk in Atlanta?  Perhaps the presence of Georgia Tech and SEC football makes the town more apathetic about its Pro teams.

11. Phoenix: Debatable as well.  I’d guess Basketball as being the longest tenured professional team in Arizona.  But, a number of teams now have spring training in Arizona and the Diamondbacks have a relatively recent World Series victory.  The Arizona football team may have made a run to the 2009 Super Bowl but Arizona didn’t even have a football team for a number of years with the Rams relocation.

12. Minneapolis: Has to be Football.  The Twins are contenders now but it wasn’t too long ago that the team was in supposed danger of contraction (thanks to their penny-pinching billionaire owner Jim Pohlad and his father).  The basketball team is a punchline in the league.  One of the few major northern/cold weather cities would be a natural for Hockey, but the North Stars left town and I had to look up the current pro hockey team’s franchise name.  The Vikings current stadium is in dis-repair, and there’s rumors that the team may move from the area (perhaps to Los Angeles to continue a trend the Lakers started in 1960).  There’s a voter backlash against paying for billion dollar properties that serve only to further enrich billionaire NFL owners, so the natural move for the Vikings may be to move out of town.  Which is a shame for football diehards in the Twin Cities area.

13. Denver: Football.  They only got baseball and hockey within the past 20 years, and i’m pretty sure the Nuggets don’t outweigh the successful Broncos.

Three Sport Towns

1. Houston:  I’d say Football, if only because its Texas (where football rules) and because the baseball team has a history of underperforming.  Houston is definitely a destination spot for NBA players (tax purposes, warm-weather city) but does it out-shine the Texans?  Clearly it isn’t the Astros, who may lose 115 games this year.

2. Toronto: Hockey.  One of the original 6 NHL franchises, a troubled basketball squad and the general dissatisfaction in Canada re: professional baseball since the strike.

3. Oakland: Football. Raider-nation is psychotic.  The A’s lack of expenditure and outright politicking to move to San Jose has soured the community on baseball to the point where large swaths of the outfield are tarped over during regular season games.  Golden State has reached the playoffs once in the past 18 years.

4. St. Louis: Baseball.  Perhaps Football, with the run-and-gun Rams and the incredible noise they generate in their indoor stadium. But St. Louis has the 2nd most successful baseball franchise in the sport (in terms of World Series victories) and a continual line of success.

5. Pittsburgh: Football.  No one can trump the Steelers, not even the owned-by-team-legend Penguins.  In most other cities this would be a hockey town.

6. Tampa Bay: Football.  Despite a recent run of success, the Rays barely draw (though have great TV ratings).  The Lightning are a great team … but I can’t see such a warm weather city really dedicating itself to a cold-weather sport.  So by default we have Football.

7. Cleveland: Football. The moving of the original Browns franchise was one of the true tragedies of sports relocation; a beloved team that was well supported picking up and moving.  So controversial was the move that the city was allowed to keep its name and almost immediately an expansion team was “invented” to give back to the city.

8. Milwaukee: Football, if you count Green Bay as being in the Milwaukee Market.  And I do, which may or may not be considered “correct” in the opinion of Wisconsin natives.

Two Sport Towns: these towns are either-or, and mostly football wins.

1. San Francisco: Football.  Despite all the history with the Giants, going to 49ers games reinforces the notion that the Bay Area loves its football.  This is the single city for which I disagree with Calcaterra, perhaps because I’ve seen 49er games and, well, they’re just as crazy as Raider fans.

2. Seattle: Football. Seahawks games are notorious for being amongst the loudest in the league despite an open-air stadium.  The Mariners have some history of success, and a great following, but don’t out-weigh the Football team.

3. San Diego: Football again; the baseball team doesn’t really draw and this beautiful-weather city doesn’t like to commit to spending its sunny evenings at baseball games.  Of course, it would help if their owner would open up his pocketbook once in a while.

4. Baltimore: Football. It was a travesty when the Colts left town, but the team has embraced its Ravens.  The Orioles had their shot to take over the town during the no-football period, and it looked as if they just might.  With one of the crown jewel stadiums in the league they shot to the top of the baseball world (for a time in the mid 90s it was Baltimore with the highest payroll in the league, not the Yankees).  Unfortunately owner Angelos has run the team into the ground, and the changing baseball market forces now mean that Baltimore is destined to be a 2nd tier team for the extended future.

5. Cincinnati: Baseball.  Both pro teams (Reds and Bengals) have respected histories and long line of success.  And yet both teams have struggled as of late.  The Reds have 3 World Series victories since 1940 but none since a shock win in 1990, and its been a long time since the Big Red Machine was in effect.  But the Bengals have never won a superbowl and havn’t even reached it since 1988.   By virtue of the Reds recent run of success I’ll go with Baseball.

6. Kansas City: Football all the way.  The Royals may look dangerous this season, but they’ve lost an entire generation of fans to ineptitude.  Meanwhile the Chiefs are an original AFL landmark and make Arrowhead one of the best home field advantages in the league.

7. Indianapolis: Arguable.  Indiana is the heart of Basketball middle-america, the home of Hoosiers and major basketball pride in the high schools and colleges.  So are the Pacers the leading sports interest?  Not with the sustained success of the Colts football team, led by possible best-ever player Peyton Manning.  But Manning is gone, and I think Basketball is still king.

8. Charlotte: none?  Charlotte is home to the Panthers and to the Bobcats.  Because of the college-basketball crazy state of North Carolina, one would think that Basketball would be king.  But the new franchise has one playoff appearance in its history and seems to be going backwards under new owner Michael Jordan (at least in the opinion of basketball pundits and observers).  The Old franchise was so abhorred due to owner’s George Shinn’s personal conduct that the community more or less boycotted the games, forcing their move to New Orleans.  Meanwhile are the Panthers the hot name in town either?  They’ve made one super bowl appearance but finished last year 2-14.  I’m going with Basketball just by default.

9. New Orleans: Football!  With an exclamation point; the “Who-Dat” Saints have always been the soul of this sports-town.  2010′s Super Bowl victory was just icing on the cake.  The basketball team shouldn’t have been moved there to begin with, and struggled so badly that the league bought out Shinn’s interest in order to keep them (for whatever reason) in New Orleans.  (Perhaps a move to Seattle is in the cards?)

10. Nashville: Football. The Predators are never going to out-live the pull of the Titans.

11. Buffalo: Tough one.  I’d go Football if only because the city still holds on to its great run of super bowl appearances, except that the team is playing “home games” in Toronto every year.  The hockey team has never won the league but has been a pretty strong lately, so I’m going with a Hockey town.


Summary by sport:

  • Football: 20
  • Baseball: 5
  • Basketball: 4
  • Hockey: 3

Thoughts?  Feedback?  Do you think I have some of these cities mid-pegged?

Written by Todd Boss

February 21st, 2013 at 10:39 am

30 for 30 Review: “9.79*”

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This should have been a seminal athletic moment of the 80s. It ended up being so, but for very different reasons. Photo unk via dailymail.co.uk

Editor’s note: there are spoilers in this review, and if you have not seen the film they are surprising enough that you may want to skip this post and see the film first.

The 2nd installment in the return of the “30 for 30″ series aired on October 9th, 2012 and is titled “9.79*.”  Directed by Daniel Gordon (a decently acclaimed british documentarian), it tells the story of the 1988 100m Men’s final from the Seoul Olympic games.  As most sports fans would be able to tell from the title, the race was won by Ben Johnson in a then-world record time of 9.79, an astounding improvement upon the standing world record and a seminal event in the sports decade.

Soon after though, Johnson tested positive for the use of Steroids, was stripped of his medal and booted from the games, and the event was a shocking introduction to the world of doping and the use of performance enhancing drugs that has only exploded since.  Nowadays, we hear about Baseball players using steroids and the narrative is familiar.  The USADA just released its report by which it made the decision to charge and eventually ban Lance Armstrong and attempt to strip him of titles won 10+ years prior.  But in 1988, the only knowledge of doping that casual sports fans knew of was allegations of eastern bloc athletes (women mostly) who were astoundingly breaking records in Swimming, Track and Weight Lifting.

(Here’s an excellent review of the film, doing it much better than I: avclub.com)

As with before, I’ll break down talking about the Subject Matter and then the film-making.

Subject Matter: the film maker got all 8 participants in the 1988 100m final to appear on film and talk somewhat candidly about the state of the sport leading up to that race, the role of drugs, and the ethical dilemna they all faced.  Contrast this to prior 30 for 30 films about Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan which didn’t include any on-screen interviews from the subjects.  The fact that Johnson himself speaks at length and openly about the experience makes this a pretty compelling watch.  Even more-so based on points we’ll touch on later…

The film starts off with an anonymous quote, “If you don’t take it, you don’t make it.”  The implication is, if you’re a runner in the 1980s and you’re not taking drugs, then you’re not going to win.  At least one of the interviewees (Calvin Smith, he himself a banned doper who was awarded the Bronze medal upon Johnson’s disqualification) talked openly about this choice.  Runners train extremely hard to only have a shot at coming in 5th or 6th place in the face of other runners who were cheating, leading (much as we saw in the Cycling world) to an escalating arms race of doping to “re-level” the playing field.  It is an awful choice to make for an athlete; stay clean and never win, or cheat like everyone else and give yourself a shot at lucrative glory.  I don’t know what choice I’d make if forced to.

The film doesn’t outright “accuse” Carl Lewis of doping himself, but the implication is pretty clear and pretty stark.  One person talks about how taking HGH forces adults to get braces (since the substance causes the jaw bone to grow far after it typically stops growing in adults), and then a few minutes later shows Lewis in 1987 … wearing braces.  Lewis himself doesn’t do himself any favors, nor does his coach and head cheerleader Joe Douglas, who seemed all too eager to brag about the sundry things that went on, or about the money that was greasing the skids in the mid 1980s in the sport.  I was left after watching thinking that Lewis was just as dirty as the rest of the competition, just that he got “out-roided” in the final.

A very frank interview with the head of the testing lab from the 1984 Olympic Games also raised some eyebrows; he accused the powers-that-be of outright ignoring the results they were seeing, and he seemed to imply that the 1984 Olympic organizers ordered him to sweep positive tests under the table so as not to sully those politically-charged games.  He kept previous samples and re-tested them years onward and found rampant drug use in the 1984 games, but he decided to destroy the evidence rather than re-open yet another investigation into past results.  I slightly disagreed though with the premise of the lab director that testing is a simple either/or principle; as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out on a recent “BS Report” podcast, to conclude that an athelete has tested positive for certain markers (especially testosterone) is incredibly difficult, since your natural testosterone levels ebb and wane on a day to day basis, are affected by your moods and naturally degrade as you age.  They’re even affected by what you eat!  And, as we learned in the Ryan Braun debacle, testosterone levels in samples can quickly change if not properly stored (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read my post on the topic from February 2012 and read Will Carroll‘s amazon story about what *really* happened.  It is well worth the read.  Or just read this piece at the HardBallTimes to understand why I don’t believe Braun cheated at all).  So unfortunately drug testing is more of an art form than something that provides conclusive proof.  And that is troubling, since in order to justify its existence a drug testing lab needs to, you know, find people who cheated.

The most outrageous point of the documentary made came from Johnson, and was a shocker.  He accused a member of Lewis’ camp of spiking his post-race beer after the 1988 100M final with the same steroids he then tested positive for.  The accused person refused to be interviewed on film but provided an incredible quote when asked whether he spiked the drink; he said something along the lines of, “Maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t.”  What kind of answer is that??  Of course he’s not going to admit such a thing, but the lack of a powerful denial almost seems like proof in and among itself that this hanger-on of Lewis’ purposely spiked the drink.  The back-story of the bad blood between the runners and the massive competition for the fastest times in the season leading up to the Olympics, to go with the arrogance of Lewis and his coach makes the accusation of a spiked drink completely believable.

From a film-making perspective, I thought the documentary was very well filmed, with excellent b-roll shots of Toronto (where Johnson is from) and other on-location spots.  You can slightly quibble with the “faked” footage, but most of the b-roll is used as supporting shots being played during quotes from the participants.  It was a little difficult to understand all the interviews, mostly because of the heavy West Indian accent of Johnson and his country-mates.  But that also may be because I was watching the film late at night and trying not to wake my wife :-) .  I’d place this film somewhere in the middle-range of the pantheon of 30-for-30 films.  It was an interesting watch but i’d probably not bother to watch it again.

30 for 30 Review: “Broke”

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I'll bet Mike Tyson wishes he still had some of this cash. Photo unknown via esquire.com

[Editor's note: Non-baseball, non-Nationals post.  Originally written in early October right after this show aired but saved until baseball season was over.  If you have some time, I highly suggest either getting it on-demand or find a re-run].

The fantastic 30 for 30 series is back on ESPN.   The great news was first published in May 2012 and the first installment of the new series aired on 10/2/12.  I like doing reviews of the 30 for 30 series (if you search for “30 for 30″ in quotes you can see some of the past reviews on this site), and I’ll try to do them for the new episodes.  If you’re interested in past looks at ESPN Films and my thoughts on the original series, you can click “30 for 30″ in the Category Tab to the right and get all posts on the topic.

First up in the new series, “Broke,” a 1.5 hour documentary by director Billy Corben about the amazing propensity for professional athletes to go bankrupt soon after retiring despite having made millions in career earnings.  This is essentially a documentary version of the seminal 2009 Sports Illustrated article on the same topic.  The film had some decent  interviews and covered several of the typical pitfalls that cause athletes to squander money.  In no particular order; blatant overspending on cars, jewelry and houses, financing your family, neighborhood and your entourage, poor choices in advisors, poor financial advice from these “advisors,” squandered business investment, predatory women and marriages, child-support payments that are tied to a player’s salary, and of course the most basic one; absolutely zero retirement planning.

(If you want to read some  highlight quotes from the documentary, click on thisBusinessInsider.com link here.  If you want to read Jason Whitlock‘s op-ed piece inspired by the documentary, click here.  Lastly, a review from Hitfix.com on both Broke and the 2nd in the series is here; we’ll cover 9.79 in a separate post).

My quick review: liked the subject matter, didn’t like the presentation.

The subject matter continues to be topical, nearly every year we hear about guys who have gone broke.  The documentary listed dozens and dozens of them at the end of the film.  I’ve often wondered how these guys manage to go broke despite 10s of millions of dollars in guaranteed income, but in reality its relatively easy.  You can somewhat excuse it when a guy like Curt Schilling loses his baseball fortune attempting to start a software company, but its a bit more inexcusable when you hear about a guy who “makes it rain” in strip clubs with hundred dollar bills.  That being said, for every Magic Johnson (who has made a massive fortune owning/operating Movie Theatures and Starbucks franchises, of which he owns more than 100) there are dozens of tales of investments in Car Washes, Restaurants and Record Companies going bad.  The film prominently featured Jamal Mashburn, who has turned his lucrative NBA career into the next coming of Johnson; he’s followed Magic’s lead and purchased dozens of franchises in Kentucky; per wikipedia and the film he owns 34 Outback Steakhouses, 37 Papa John’s franchises and a number of car dealerships.  Just 40, he’s apparently amassed enough wealth to be in the discussion to purchase an NBA Franchise.

The most egregious examples of pro athletes going broke were not interviewed for the film; Allen Iverson (career earnings in excess of $200 million including salary and endorsements), Evander Holyfield (career earnings estimated at about $200M), Antoine Walker (career earnings of $110M before taxes), Vince Young (ALREADY broke despite a $26M guaranteed contract just 6 years ago!)  and the most ridiculous example being Mike Tyson (career earnings of $400M, all gone).   A bit of googling resulted in this interesting “Top 10 worst Financial Meltdowns by Athletes” and its a bit mind boggling.  The director noted that most of these guys who have been forced to declare bankrupcy for vast sums are far too embarassed to appear on the film, hence the rather random collection of on-screen athletes who did appear (among others, Bernie KosarAndre RisonKeith McCants, Sean Salisbury and Cliff Floyd).   I’d say that Rison was probably the closest we’ll see to the blatant modern-day squandering of money that we hear stories about, while Kosar and Salisbury befell some of the other classical bankrupcy issues mentioned above.

The section on predatory women was kind of sad really; the film interviewed a blogger whose site (Baller Alert.com, I kid you not) sends out alerts to female subscribers if/when they find out that basketball players are going to be at a certain location.  The blogger noted that one time she announced that an NBA player was at a club in DC and an hour later 1,000 women showed up.   This isn’t the first time I’ve read about this culture in the pro sports world; the book Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan the author decided to find out how easy it was to bait a pro athlete into hooking up, so he recruited a former girlfriend, she got some “coaching” as to how to dress and act, and they inserted her into a bar situation where a known pro athlete was present.  Sure enough, the athlete sent over a handler and tried to press onwards with a relationship.

I was left with two overriding thoughts after watching the film:

1. It was really, really difficult to watch this film as a middle-aged white male and not pass judgement on the ridiculous spending exploits of predominantly young black males.  I alluded to salary just a couple weeks ago in this space, talking about how John Lannan was set for life on the basis of his $5M 2012 contract and how I didn’t necessarily feel sorry for the guy.  But the fact is that most athletes don’t see a singular payday this way.  The film certainly wasn’t apologetic for these guys getting into trouble; it merely analyzed what generally happens to these  young players.  They get paid, they spend money, they make mistakes, they have children out of wedlock and incur massive monthly payments, they buy 5 houses and 8 cars, they don’t plan for the future … and then suddenly they’re out of the game and they go from millions a year to Zero income.  It is a common tale.  This documentary certainly isn’t EXCUSING this behavior; it just explains how it happens.

2. I’m surprised that the pro sports don’t do more to heed this off.  The film showed Herm Edwards giving the incoming NFL rookies his speech at the Rookie Symposium … and then talked about how most rookies sleep through the sessions.  I’m surprised that the unions havn’t recognized this as a massive problem and forced some sort of IRA contribution out of their players upon entrance to the leagues.

From a “film critic” stand-point, while the subject matter was pretty interesting I wouldn’t rank this film with the upper echelon of 30-for-30 works (“The Two Escobars,” “Four days in October” being some of the best of the original run).  I thought it could have been done in an hour, I thought it should have done a better job focusing on the more egregious cases of players gone bankrupt, I thought they could have found better representatives to talk than guys like Homer Bush and Sean Salisbury (Homer Bush!?  I had to look him up on b-r.com: 409 career games?  And he’s talking about athletes squandering millions?  Well, he did manage to make $7.7M per his b-r page, so that’s not chump change.  Bush reportedly was not happy with the way he was portrayed in this film, as mentioned on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast).  Lastly I thought having the SAME song playing for virtually the entire show got old, fast.  Critics didn’t like the “soundbyte after soundbyte” presentation, which lasted well into the film.

30 for 30 is coming back

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ESPN and Grantland announced today the 2nd installment of the fantastic 30-for-30 series.

I thought the network made a huge mistake by not keeping the 30-for-30 brand name when it released a slew of follow-on productions after the initial run of 30 ended.  Instead they branded them as “ESPN Films presents…” stories and made it nearly impossible for the DVR-age of TV viewers to find them.  Most of us depend on setting a “Record Series” job keyed on the name … but then they presented the follow-on films just using their titles.  To make matters worse ESPN kept changing the air times and the order, didn’t keep a regular weekly schedule of releases, and as a result the viewer numbers were down for the follow on shows.  I still havn’t seen half of the 2nd set, which is unfortunate because there’s some great stories presented.

I did a review of the first batch of 30-for-30s and tried to post thoughts on some of the follow-on shows when I happened to catch them (reviews for the Bartman episode, Dotted-Line, and The Real Rocky) but ran out of gas on the reviews when it became too difficult to get them recorded.

Either way, can’t wait to see the next installments.

Written by Todd Boss

May 16th, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Posted in 30 for 30,Non-Baseball

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ESPN Films “The Real Rocky” — a review

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Hmm. Turns out Stallone had some inspiration for the Rocky franchise. Photo screen-grab from Rocky I.

(latest in an ongoing series of “reviews” of ESPN films releases.  See here for Wikipedia list of all the original 30-for-30 films plus the add-ons).

“The Real Rocky” was an entertaining look into the life of Chuck Wepner, interspersed with snippets from the ongoing saga of his lawsuit against Sylvester Stallone, with Wepner narrating his life and all its ups and down in a matter-of-fact manner.  All the while, a treasure trove of old boxing clippings, never-before-seen video of fights from the 60s and 70s and other classic boxing memorabilia were shown as supporting graphics and gave the documentary a very nice feel as it played out.  The documentary does a good job of capturing the story of Wepner; a rather amazing story of a talented but relatively unskilled former marine who sold liquor by day and somehow ascended to be ranked the #8 Heavyweight boxer in the world in his spare time, during a time when Muhammad Ali ruled the sporting world and boxing never was more popular.  He picked up the sport on a whim and quickly won a Golden Gloves championship, rocketing him into the professional ranks in his mid 20s.

The documentary also serves as a great reminder of just how far the sport has fallen in the wake of corruption, unethical promoters, multiple sanctioning agencies, and general American attention spans turning to MMA/Ultimate Fighting in the wake of Mike Tyson‘s downfall and a lack of highly ranked Americans in the sport.  People forget that boxing used to be as popular a draw as the modern day “big-4″ sports, with its champions regularly making front page sports news.  Perhaps this was mostly attributable to the incredible self marketing ability of Ali himself; certainly the sporting world has yet to really see someone like him since.

Throughout the movie, a small band of (mostly New York-based) newspaper writers held court in a dark, smoky bar setting and opined about Wepner, his fights, and the golden age of boxing in general.  I would have loved to see ESPN’s excellent set of boxing analysts be included in this round-table, as Bert Sugar, Teddy Atlas, Max Kellerman and Brian Kenny all are excellent analysts and have great opinions to add about boxing of yesteryear.  It was surprising that an ESPN production didn’t seem to use any of its own people, perhaps something they decided not to force on the film-maker.

One takeaway point that I found fascinating was the attempts (both covert and overt) by Ali to turn the fight into a “racial war;” he reportedly asked Wepner to call him the “N-word” in a press conference, and when Wepner declined Ali forced the issue by alleging it on a talk show live and “inventing” some conflict.  Clearly an act of showmanship, and an attempt to drum up even more interest in the fight.  I would have loved to see an interview with Ali himself; clearly his declining current physical condition prevented this.  But I’m surprised an attempt wasn’t made to at least get some film time for the former champ.

Wepner held his own when the fight eventually occurred, sticking to an aggressive game plan and even knocking down Ali before taking a barrage of punches from the champion and eventually being overcome in the 15th round.  The image of Wepner, who had such a reputation for bleeding that his nickname in the boxing world was “the Bayonne Bleeder” (he lived, and still resides, in Bayonne, NJ), bloodied and literally unconscious on his feet after the fight was stopped was gripping.  To me it was a clear example of why even a blood-sport needed to go from 15-rounds to 12-round competitions so as to protect its boxers.

The Stallone-Wepner connection, which was the subject of a lawsuit finally filed nearly 30 years after the first Rocky movie aired, became more and more clear as the movie went on.  Stallone clearly attributed his inspiration for the screen play to Wepner, and over the years called him frequently, met with him and freely spoke of using life experiences of Wepner’s in subsequent movies (both in and out of the Rocky franchise).  When it became clear that Wepner never had made a dime off Stallone’s success, and at the urging of his 3rd wife, Wepner filed suit to get some compensation for a lifetime of having his stories turned into profit centers for others.  Amazingly, in the face of a preponderance of evidence, Stallone was deposed and claimed to have never even considered Wepner as a source.  It was of little surprise to note that Wepner eventually settled out of court, though apparently the monetary settlement was “not very large.”  Wepner continues to work to this day, in the same liquor outside sales job he always worked, despite being in his 70s.  He has been able to cash in on his fame, and seems to enjoy the speaking engagements and appearances that he gets on a consistent basis.  That was great to see, and unlike so many other retired athletes who go bankrupt or who lose their earned fortunes in failed business deals or via shady advisers, Wepner lives a happy, comfortable life.

In conjunction with the release of the film on October 25th (one week earlier than it was supposed to air), Grantland’s Michael Weinreb posted a great story on the new ESPN off-shoot site, worth a read.  And the documentary itself is worth a watch, even if you’re not a boxing fan.

Written by Todd Boss

October 31st, 2011 at 9:19 am

ESPN Films “The Dotted Line” — a review

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Scott Boras is probably the most well known agent to Nats fans, representing roughly a quarter of our 40-man roster. Photo Ezra Shaw/Getty images via espn.com

(this is an ongoing series of personal reviews of ESPN film’s newly released documentaries.  See here for some previous discussions).

ESPN Film’s latest documentary, by excellent film maker Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame), discusses sports agents and their role in the sports industry.  It is an excellent documentary and vaults into the upper echelon of the films that have been part of the original 30-for-30 series, in this person’s opinion.  Spurlock touches on the agent process for non superstars, talks to some big-name agents about corruption and problems in the industry, analyzes why agents exist and their role in professional sports, and takes a look at how sports agents (specifically David Falk) have enabled athletes to go from, well, athletes to world-known figures by virtue of negotiated advertising and sponsorship contracts.

The documentary first followed a smaller sports agency (ETL) as he recruited lower level football prospects, giving a pretty interesting viewpoint into the business of smaller-time agents not named Scott Boras or Drew Rosenhaus.  The cutthroat-ness of the industry came through loud and clear as one of ETL’s clients freely ditched the signing agent for a larger company after he had been drafted, despite ETL having nursed the player through the process and invested thousands of dollars in his draft preparation.  There’s no regulation, and seemingly no ethics, in the representation contracts that are signed and broken as easily as junior high school students date and then break up.

The interview with Michael Jordan super-agent David Falk was indeed eye-opening, if only because most of us now take sports commercials, Nike, Gatorade and Under Armour for granted.  In the early 80s, there was no such sports commercial market.  Falk and Jordan invented the genre and made each other rich and filthy rich in the process.  There was a telling quote; Nike expected to sell 3 million pairs of Air Jordan sneakers in the first two years.  They sold 150m instead.

Spurlock also talked about shadiness on the agent’s side, interviewing Josh Luchs, the former sports agent who disclosed years of shady practices in an eye-opening Sports Illustrated article in October of last year.  In typical Spurlock fashion, he took Luchs back to the “scene of the crime,” and Luchs showed how easy it remains to this day for agents to have access to players for recruiting.  I’m not sure what point he was making, proving that access to a public university campus is rather easy, but the intent was to Luch’s often repeated point about how the Ncaa and schools have done little to address the issues that Luchs himself admitted to.

For me, the salient point in the documentary was a quote towards the end of the piece, after discussing all the shadiness.  David Falk, when prompted, basically said that (i’m paraphrasing) “He didn’t see how it was possible to get started in the sports agent business without giving payments to athletes.”  That line appeared just before a commercial break and I audibly said, “Wow” to myself upon hearing it.  To have one of the most clean-cut agents in the business basically admit that rule breaking is nearly a requirement to break into the business was alternatively shocking and amazingly honest to hear.

I don’t think this documentary was powerful enough to actually cause its subjects to change their behaviors (McDonalds changed their menu options and decreased the sizes of their drinks and french-fry packages not long after the film embarassed the restaurant chain).  But it was an interesting watch into an industry that we often only see when a pro athlete has done something reprehensible.

Written by Todd Boss

October 27th, 2011 at 9:10 am

ESPN Films Catching Hell – a review

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If you've never seen this shot before, no worries you'll see it 1000 more times before the end of the documentary. Photo unknown via prorumors.com

After the initial run of ESPN Films’ 30-for-30 series proved to be so successful, the producers of the series got approval to continue the series (albeit not using the original name) in a recurring ESPN Films Presents series of sports documentaries.

The first in the post 30-for-30 series was The Fab Five, a great documentary about the freshman class who took over the University of Michigan’s program in 1991 and ended up playing for two successive national championships.  I thought the documentary was great and showcased how articulate and thoughtful Jalen Rose really is, even if the documentary was really hampered by the lack of involvement from its main protagonist Chris Webber. (The brew-ha-ha about Rose’s comments w/r/t Grant Hill and the Duke players was overblown, and taken out of the context of the flow of the film.)

However, the one documentary that people kept talking about when it came to the post-30 for 30 run was the Steve Bartman documentary.  It was scheduled to run with the first 30 episodes but its Director (Alex Gibney, who is best known for his Enron documentary) asked for more time.  So Catching Hell became a showpiece of ESPN Films on-going documentary presentations and debuted on 9/27/11.

My thoughts: I was a bit disappointed, given the lead-up and all that I had heard about the documentary.  It was too long; they could have fit the content into at least a 90 minute presentation and not stretched it for 2 hours.  By the end of the 2 hour presentation we had probably seen a replay of the play in one form or the other at least 100 times and I remember saying to myself, “ok enough is enough.”

The “scapegoat” theme was a good one, and was one of the salient take-away points of the documentary, but for the film to spend so much time on the Bill Buckner/Red Sox incident was disappointing.  I think its fair to say that the Buckner play is so well known that time was probably “wasted” going over it in such detail, again.  We didn’t learn anything new from the documentary on the play (except perhaps that Buckner himself noted the probable reason why he missed the ball).  I thought the film could have just covered the play and talked about the Buckner-as-scapegoat aftermath and moved on.

The stories from the security guards were fascinating; Bartman was not only taken from his seat under guard but was disguised to leave the stadium and then ended up in someone’s home before getting a cab home. Interviews with some of the fans in the area were well done and offered some insight to the play.  The “never before seen footage” was also pretty cool, even if most of it came from a budding filmmaker of his own making who probably should have been thinking about making this film himself instead of giving up his film after all this time.

However; the film failed to interview Steve Bartman himself.  It also didn’t interview the guy who actually GOT the ball and celebrated as any normal fan would have done, but certainly pointed out that all the outrage in the crowd and the town was pointed at Bartman and not the fan who eventually got the ball (and later sold it for well in excess of $100,000).  Also, the filmmaker failed to interview the two people who accompanied Bartman to the game (apparently they were his guests, as Bartman had purchased 3 seats), but did note that these people visibly distanced themselves from Bartman at the time and then abandoned him once all the melee started.  Nice friends.

The closest it got to Bartman was interviewing an ESPN feature writer who was assigned to track Bartman down and finally get his story … the writer described his pursuit of Bartman (who by this point, and to this day, clearly wants nothing to do with the situation) and his approach, having stalked the poor guy and staked out his office for 8 hours.  At least the writer showed remorse for his unethical behavior, and the story never came to fruition.

In the end; I guess I wanted more “meat.”  Perhaps the over-hyping of the film via promos and commercials led to my disappointment.  I would have least expected Bartman to actually appear on film.  Maybe in the end, there’s just so much you can make of one baseball play.

Written by Todd Boss

October 11th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Off Topic: ranking the ESPN 30 for 30 series

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Photo courtesy of ESPN Films, the producers of the series.

For me, the ESPN “30 for 30″ series was one of the best creations of TV over the past few years.  The documentary approach to sports journalism has been refreshing and (in most cases) great TV.  When sports programming can keep even a passing sports fan (my finacee) interested and asking for more, you know its been done well.

I listen to almost exclusively podcasts in the car these days, and one of my favorites is the “Firewall and Iceberg” podcast recorded by the lead TV reviewers Alan Sepinwall and Dan Fienberg from www.hitfix.com.  I first learned of reviewer Alan Sepinwall by his appearances on Bill Simmons‘ podcasts (which are first in line to listen to when they get released) and really enjoy his reviews online and their podcasts.

I happened to be perusing the hitfix.com site lately (I was looking for the name of a show they were extolling on the latest podcast) when I came across this link: Dan Fienberg’s rankings of the 30 “30-for-30″ shows.  While I did appreciate most of his comments, I didn’t necessarily agree with the rankings he came up with for the programs.  Since i’ve seen every one of the series, I thought i’d go ahead and do my own rankings.

Disappointing or Unwatchable

  • “Marion Jones: Press Pause”   As most critics have noted, this essentially turned into a glorification of Marion Jones and never once delved into her steroids usage, why she did it, or touch on any of the real issues involved with her.
  • “Without Bias” – It essentially was a step-by-step review of the story of the player without adding much analysis to the story.
  • “Straight Outta LA” – Unwatchable, I turned it off halfway through.  Ice-T‘s not much of a filmmaker.
  • “One Night in Vegas” – Another really weird documentary, especially with the gangsta-poem readings at the beginning and end of the show.  I find it really difficult to glorify the death of a rap star who essentially talked his way into being a target.
  • “Silly Little Game” – Re-enactment of the first group of people to play fantasy baseball; it sounds as interesting as watching the first accountants come up with regulatory principles in a room together.
  • “The House of Steinbrenner” – This wasn’t so much a documentary as it was a glorification of a franchise that has used its superior financial might for the entire century.  Poor Yankees fans; your stadium has been replaced with a Billion dollar monstrosity that has $4,000/game seats and is guaranteed to skew the revenue system in baseball for another 50 years.  Awesome.

Watchable but could have been done better

  • “The Birth of Big Air” – Matt Hoffman certainly is an interesting character but I don’t really consider extreme sports of any kind to be “real” sports.  Yes they’re difficult feats of athletic prowness … but so is ballet dancing.  Yes, i’m difficult to watch most olympic sports with :-)
  • “The U” – Too long, and gets bogged down in the year-to-year machinations of the program.
  • “Unmatched” – Such an uncomfortable documentary; I came away from watching it with the interesting storyline that Evert and Navratilova were such friends … but the tone of the story and music choices had me essentially waiting for the lesbian coupling that seemed to be so pushed by the filmmakers.  Ugh.
  • “Little Big Men” – Good story, but there’s been so many American little league winners, as well as the dilution of the field, that this story loses its impact.
  • “Guru of Go” – Perhaps combining both the story of Hank Gathers’ death AND the basketball system of Paul Westphal confused the story.
  • “The Legend of Jimmy the Greek” – one of the very first ones shown and certainly an interesting story, but the re-enactment voice over ruins the story.
  • “June 17, 1994″ – Brings bad some strange memories.  I loved the never-before-seen footage of sportscasters but I thought the story could have done with actual images and story telling.
  • “Run Ricky Run” – Another weird documentary.  Hard to feel remorse for a drug using athlete though.
  • “Muhammad and Larry” – This was perhaps the most depressing of the series.  Ali was so brain damaged by the time he took this fight, it seems almost criminal now that he was allowed to fight.  The story drags though, using weird fillers for most of the time and not really showing the fight itself.

Interesting watches

  • “The 16th Man” – Good, but so was Invictus.
  • “Jordan Rides the Bus” – I love Ron Shelton‘s work but you cannot help but wonder how good this would have been with actual participation from Michael Jordan.  You come away from the story with the thought that Jordan actually had talent and that he worked at his baseball craft.
  • “The Pony Excess” – Lots of interviews, great detail.  Probably a bit too long though.
  • “Tim Richmond: To the Limit” – I thought it was really interesting that NASCAR turned out to be so introspective about the clear mis-treatment of one of its own … all in the name of fear over his illness.  Read his wikipedia page for some really interesting notes about his essentially be framed for his positive drug test.  I cannot imagine this news breaking in Nascar or any other major sport today.

Good to Very Good

  • “Fernando Nation” – If you don’t remember just how amazingly dominant Fernando Valenzuela was when he came to MLB, check out his baseball-reference page.  In his rookie season he threw EIGHT shutouts, and started the season 8-0 with 8 complete games, and only gave up FOUR earned runs in his first 8 starts.  That’s a heck of a start to the season.  The story telling related to the treatment of the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles was also interesting to learn about.
  • “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson” – Another that really could have used involvement of the principal character of the story.  Nonetheless, the substories related to the high school rivalries and politics of the Tidewater area were fascinating, if not necessarily substantiated.  Having lived in Virginia at the time, the amazing part of the Iverson story was that he was named both the Football and the Basketball player of the year in the state … as a Junior.  He undoubtedly would have done the same as a senior.
  • “King’s Ransom” – Interesting story telling from a great director in Peter Berg.  The involvement and discussions with Gretzky on the golf range really gave this story its life.  Unlike the story of LeBron James moving cities and destroying a franchise, Gretzky’s departure clearly altered the direction of the Edmonton Oilers for the long run.
  • “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?” – Some criticized this documentary, but just for the interview with the incredibly egotistical Donald Trump make this for me.
  • “Into the Wind” – Such a moving story. Steve Nash‘s involvement was really special in telling this inspirational Canadian pride story.

The Best of the Series

  • “Four Days in October” – A great documentary if only for the fantastic interviews with Pedro Martinez.  I found the footage of the Red Sox players facing a 3-0 deficit fascinating, and the drama of the games in retrospect makes the Boston comeback even more amazing.  Update: After several re-watches, I moved this up in my rankings.
  • “The Band that Wouldn’t Die” – Most say this is the best of the series.  I feel they’re getting starry-eyed by the director (Barry Levinson) versus the actual story.  But this obscure story is a highlight of the series and is a great example of the richness of American sport as a subject matter.
  • “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks” – One of the absolute best stories.  The interviews with Reggie Miller and Spike Lee make this one of the best of the series.
  • “The Best That Never Was” – My father immediately recalled who Marcus Dupree was, and this story was an interesting tale.  My biggest takeaway was the 100% positiveness of Dupree, even today.  He’s not angry or sad about what his life has become (he’s a truck driver in rural Mississippi).  On the contrary, he’s grateful for everything he had and all the opportunities he got.
  • “The Two Escobars” – the footage, interviews and story told here was fantastic.  I only wish it was not 100% subtitled.
  • “Once Brothers” – Another great story, told through the eyes of the very human Vlade Divac.  It could have used a bit more subtext into the politics behind the split of Yugoslavia for those of us who get lost in the mid 80s politics.

If I had to give a best and worst, I’d probably go with “The Two Escobars” for best and “Marion Jones” as the worst.  I can’t wait to see the stories they have in the pipeline.  Steve Bartman should make for a great story to tell.  The great news is that the series will continue and some of the original ideas proposed will be explored.  Again referring to a Bill Simmons podcast, here’s some of the original series ideas kicked around that may still be turned into documentaries:

  • 86 masters
  • 89 ws earthquake
  • Tysons-robin givens Relationship
  • doc and darrell
  • title 9
  • dream Team
  • fab five
  • wwf/ andre the giant (couldn’t be done b/c Vince McMahon owns all the film)
  • 94 rangers
  • kerri suggs
  • scott norwood/scapegoats (delayed b/c of the Bartman film)
  • racism in sports
  • franchise relocation (pushed off b/c of the Levinson Baltimore Colts band story)
  • pete rose

Here’s to a great series and many more great documentaries.

5/11/11 Update: ESPN’s 30-for-30 site now allows you to rank the series yourself, which I did and ranked them as such:

1.Two Escobars
2.Band/Wouldn’t Die
3.Reggie Miller
4.Marcus Dupree
5.Four Days Oct.
6.Once Brothers
7.No Crossover
8.Who Killed USFL?
9.Fernando Nation
10.King’s Ransom
11.Into The Wind
12.Jordan Rides/Bus
13.Pony Excess
14.Tim Richmond
15.The 16th Man
16.Muhammad / Larry
17.Unmatched
18.Birth of Big Air
19.Little Big Men
20.Jimmy The Greek
21.The U
22.Guru of Go
23.June 17, 1994
24.Run Ricky Run
25.Without Bias
26.Steinbrenner
27.Silly Little Game
28.Straight Outta L.A.
29.One Night/Vegas
30.Marion Jones

After submitting my rankings, I could see how the rest of ESPN nation had these ranked and was rather surprised.  As of 5/11/11, here’s the rankings overall:

1 The U
2 Pony Excess
3 Marcus Dupree
4 Reggie Miller
5 Run Ricky Run
6 Two Escobars
7 Without Bias
8 June 17, 1994
9 Once Brothers
10 No Crossover
11 Muhammad / Larry
12 Jordan Rides/Bus
13 One Night/Vegas
14 Four Days Oct.
15 Who Killed USFL?
16 Straight Outta L.A.
17 King’s Ransom
18 Guru of Go
19 Jimmy The Greek
20 Steinbrenner
21 Band/Wouldn’t Die
22 Into The Wind
23 Silly Little Game
24 The 16th Man
25 Fernando Nation
26 Little Big Men
27 Birth of Big Air
28 Unmatched
29 Tim Richmond
30 Marion Jones

“The U,” which I thought was only mediocre, led by a fairly large margin over #2.  My #1 film “The Two escobars” was in the top 10, but was 3rd in overall #1 votes.

“Marion Jones: Press Pause”
“Without Bias”
“Straight Outta LA”
“One Night in Vegas”
“Silly Little Game”

Watchable but could have been done better
“The Birth of Big Air”
“The U”
“Unmatched”
“Little Big Men”
“Tim Richmond: To the Limit”
“Guru of Go”
“The Legend of Jimmy the Greek”
“The House of Steinbrenner”
“June 17, 1994″
“Run Ricky Run”

Run of the Mill
“The 16th Man”
“Muhammad and Larry”
“Jordan Rides the Bus”
“Four Days in October”
“Fernando Nation”
“The Pony Excess”

Good
“No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson”
“Once Brothers”
“King’s Ransom”
“Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?”

Great
“The Band that Wouldn’t Die”
“Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”
“Into the Wind”
“The Best That Never Was”
“The Two Escobars”