ESPN Films 30 For 30 Comes to the Library

In conjunction with it’s 30th anniversary, ESPN has come out with 30 films documenting sports stories from the first 30 years of its existence. These documentaries, known as ESPN Films 30 for 30, have been directed by accomplished filmmakers such as Barry Levinson, Peter Berg, Ron Shelton, and John Singleton. Critically acclaimed as films, not just sports films, many of them make a connection to social and political events taking place at the same time as the chronicled sports event. It’s possible you’ve run into some of them while channel surfing, but haven’t gotten to see them in their entirety. Luckily the library is in the process of acquiring this group of films for our collection. Below is a list of the films we have already acquired, as well as several we have on order. I highly recommend them, not only to sports fans, but to fans of film.

King’s RansomWayne Gretzky is arguably the greatest hockey player who ever lived, and achieved the status of living legend in Edmonton as a member of the Oilers, leading them to five Stanley Cups in seven years. His trade to the Los Angeles Kings sent shockwaves through the hockey world, Canada, and was something Gretzky himself had trouble coming to terms with. Peter Berg’s film shows how this trade took place, and the lasting effects it had on the hockey world as well as those who were involved.


The Band That Wouldn’t Die – The NFL’s Colts left Baltimore under the cover of darkness in March of 1984. Their fan base would never forgive owner Robert Irsay, or understand why he decided to move the team to Indianapolis after 30 successful years on the east coast. In this film, Barry Levinson chronicles the Baltimore Colts band, which continued to carry the flag for the city of Baltimore long after their team left town, and shows, through the band, the pain their departure inflicted on the city’s football fans.


Muhammad & Larry – When Muhammad Ali fought Larry Holmes in 1980, his career was ending, although he was the only one who hadn’t realized it yet. Through documentary footage shot before the fight, Albert Maysles shows Ali, still convinced he is “The Greatest”, as well as mild mannered Larry Holmes, preparing for the fight which would end Ali’s career. At the time, this footage was interesting. Looking back now, however, the fall of one of the greatest champions the world of boxing has ever seen is almost chilling.


Once Brothers – Together Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic turned the Yugoslavian National Basketball team into one of the best in the world. Their success led them to the NBA, where both became the league’s first foreign stars. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, however, Yugoslavia split up, thus beginning a war between Divac’s Serbia and Petrovic’s Croatia. Michael Tolajian’s film tells the story of the two friends, turned wartime enemies, their relationship on and off the court, and the pain and regret caused by circumstances beyond their control.

Little Big Men – In 1982, against the backdrop of a country in turmoil, the Kirkland, Washington Little League baseball team took the field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania trying to do something that hadn’t been done in over a decade – win a Little League World Series Championship for the United States in a truly international final. Al Szymanski’s film takes us back to that day, examining what happened during the game, what happened to the boys who participated in the game, and how it affected their lives for years to come.

The Two Escobars – Colombian soccer had a swift rise in the worldwide arena during the 1980s and 1990s, many feel largely due to the support of avid soccer fan Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel. Andres Escobar was one of the best players on the Colombian soccer team during that time, but had a fateful own goal against the United States in the 1994 World Cup. Michael and Jeff Zimbalist’s film shows the relationship between the two Escobars, and how their rise and fall paralleled the rise and fall of the Colombian National Team.

Run Ricky Run – In 2004, Ricky Williams left the Miami Dolphins, along with the fame and fortune that came with his illustrious football career. In the process he walked out on teammates and fans who felt betrayed by what they saw as a player walking out on an impending drug suspension. In his film, Sean Pamphilon follows Ricky Williams after he left football for anonymity in Australia. In doing so, he shows us why Williams felt he needed to walk away from the game when he did, and the path he took back to football.


Fernando Nation – Rarely has baseball ever seen a rookie season like the one Fernando Valenzuela had with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981. After starting out the season 8-0 with a .50 ERA, he went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young Award, and a World Series Championship with the Dodgers. Thus began Fernandomania, and the love affair between the city of Los Angeles and its new favorite star. But, as director Cruz Angeles shows us in his film, Valenzuela’s popularity transcended sports, as he became an icon of the Chicano movement taking place at the same time in Los Angeles, and is still an important figure to many Hispanic-Americans.

Four Days In October – Few teams have been more cursed throughout their history than the Boston Red Sox. Since trading away Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1918, the Red Sox had been suffering through a World Series drought eclipsed by only the Chicago Cubs. Therefore, it almost made sense that in order to win their first title in 86 years they would have to come back from a 3-0 deficit against the hated Yankees in order to win the pennant. Filmmaker Gary Waksman chronicles the four days that changed the fortunes of the Red Sox and reversed the curse.

Guru of Go – After being fired by the Los Angeles Lakers in the mid 80s, Paul Westhead took a coaching job at Loyola Marymount and proceeded to install his shoot first, run and gun offense that was frowned upon by the rest of the basketball establishment. When the talented duo of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble arrived, however, the offense took off and Loyola Marymount basketball became known throughout the country. Bill Couturie’s film gives the viewer a glimpse of Paul Westhead’s unique basketball philosophies, and takes us on a ride through the improbable and tragic Loyola Marymount 1989-90 basketball season.

Into the Wind – In 1980, while fighting bone cancer, Terry Fox departed on a journey across his native Canada in an attempt to raise awareness and money for cancer research. He was determined to walk the entire way, despite the fact that three years before he had his right leg amputated six inches above his knee. While he was not well known before his marathon walk, Fox became a national hero before his journey came to an abrupt end due to the discovery of more tumors on his body. In his first film, NBA star and fellow Canadian Steve Nash, chronicles Fox’s journey of courage and hope.

June 17, 1994 – Who knew so many things could happen on one day?  In the sports world, June 17, 1994 was a day full of firsts and lasts – from Arnold Palmer’s last round of golf in the U.S. Open, to the World Cup of Soccer beginning play in Chicago, to the New York Rangers celebrating their first Stanley Cup Title in decades, to the New York Knicks pursuing their first NBA Title since 1973, and finally the dramatic and bizarre pursuit of O.J. Simpson by the Los Angeles Police. Force. Filmmaker Brett Morgen take us through this strange day when all corners of the sports world collided.

The Legend of Jimmy the Greek – Sports handicapper Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder came to prominence during the 1980s as a regular on the popular NFL pregame show on CBS, The NFL Today. As his popularity increased on the show, he gained more respect as an analyst, and became the most popular sports gambler in the country. Fritz Mitchell’s film takes a look at Snyder’s upbringing in Ohio, his rise within the sports gambling community, his stint as an analyst on the NFL Today, and his tragic downfall.


Pony Excess – In the early 1980s, the football program at SMU was on the rise under coach Ray Meyer, and thanks to recruits such as Eric Dickerson and Craig James was regularly competing for Southwest Conference Championships. But when recruiting violations such as bribes, gifts, and payoffs came to the surface, the program was placed on probation, and eventually received the “Death Penalty” from which it is just now beginning to recover twenty years later. Through interviews with players, coaches, boosters, and reporters, Thaddeus D. Matula’s film chronicles the rise, fall, and rebirth of the once proud SMU football program.

Silly Little Game – Although fantasy sports, most notably fantasy football, have grown exponentially in popularity in the past couple of decades, not many people know where the game got its roots. In their film, Lucas Jansen and Adam Kurland take us back to The Rotisserie League, a baseball league formed by a group of self-proclaimed stat crazed friends and colleagues in New York City. They show us how Rotisserie Baseball grew in popularity and, with the help of the Internet, eventually turned into something its creators could never have imagined.

Small Potatoes – Who Killed the USFL? – Begun in 1983, the USFL (United States Football League) played its games in the spring and gave football fans an outlet for their passion in the NFL’s off season. When the new league grew in popularity, and began signing some of the premier college players such as Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Doug Flutie and Reggie White, one of the team owners, Donald Trump, felt the league should move to the fall and compete with the NFL. Filmmaker Mike Tollin takes us back to the founding of the league, its rise, and its collapse after a failed anti-trust lawsuit against he NFL, and attempts to find the answer to the question – who killed the USFL?

Without Bias – The death of Len Bias in 1986, just days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics, due to a cocaine overdose turned the basketball world on its head, and forever changed the way recreational drug use in sports would be viewed by the public. Although we will never know how good Bias could have been in Celtic green, his tragic death was the initial influence behind decades worth of drug policies in the sports world. In his film, Kirk Fraser looks at Bias before and after the tragedy, re-examining him as a player, and trying to determine what caused him to take the path he did toward his demise.

I'm the Red Carpet Librarian and work to bring lifelong support services to the Topeka and Shawnee County area through outreach and programming. I also am a sports enthusiast, work closely with the library's sports collection, and provide programming to engage the community's sports fans.

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