Basketball games are exciting to watch. However, there's much more going on behind the scenes than what’s on the courts. Thankfully, we've got documentaries to shine some light on the most intriguing personalities and stories the NBA has to offer.
Many movies and documentaries tell fascinating stories from this fabulous world. Don't be overwhelmed, though.
We've meticulously compiled 10 of the best basketball documentaries for you. Prepare to laugh, cry, and shout as you watch these remarkable stories and characters unfold.
Top 10 Basketball Documentaries
1. Hoop Dreams
Director: Steve James
IMDb rating: 8.3/10
You don't need to be a basketball fan to enjoy Hoop Dreams. The movie is about two inner-city kids, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who dream of playing pro basketball.
The documentary movie depicts how these two kids deal with the hardships of growing up in Chicago's lower-income communities.
Although the movie primarily focuses on basketball, it also speaks volumes about race, social status, and education. Also, the story-telling is a fine blend of drama and melodrama. It perfectly combines touching and joyful moments.
Steve James shot the movie, which was released in 1994. Afterward, the famous movie critic, Edger Ebert, said it was one of the best films he had ever seen. Moreover, the documentary became a part of the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2005.
2. Without Bias
Director: Kirk Fraser
IMDb rating: 7.2/10
Since the mid-1980s, Michael Jordan has been well-known to anyone who follows basketball.
Len Bias is an excellent player from the 80s. He could've had the same kind of respect and popularity. Unfortunately, Bias passed away in the early morning hours of June 19, 1986.
Thus, basketball fans had never seen what a legend he could have become. He died of a cocaine overdose. The tragedy happened a few hours after being selected No. 2 overall in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics.
Without Bias is filled with commentaries from coaches, friends, and Bias' parents. The documentary follows his ascent to success at the University of Maryland to his untimely death.
Besides, it reflects the influence his death had on sports culture. When Brian Tribble (Lens' friend) pleaded on a 911 call saying, "This is Len Bias. You have to get him back to life. There's no way he can die" - chills went down our spine.
3. The Last Dance
Director: Jason Hehir
IMDb rating: 9.1/10
In 2020, The Last Dance took home an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary Series. And we believe it deserves all the praise it has garnered thus far.
This sports documentary highlights Michael Jordan at the height of his fame during the 1997-98 NBA season. That season marked his final appearance in the NBA Finals with the Chicago Bulls.
The sheer scope of this documentary is mind-boggling. The film demonstrated that Michael Jordan was one of the finest ever to play this game. It provided further access to the story for the audience.
Thus, we could see that all the stories we thought we knew were lies. It turns out the truth was much more astonishing than we had imagined.
The Last Dance also demonstrated how difficult it was for the Bulls, despite how easy they made it look.
The Last Dance is a documentary that will astonish the newcomers to the game, in addition to the long-time fans. It presents original footage and new stories from players and coaches. Moreover, we can take an intimate look into Jordan's thoughts 20 years later.
Director: Zatella Beatty
IMDb rating: 7.1/10
Iverson chronicles how Allen Iverson ascended from living in poverty in Hampton, Virginia, to the NBA's biggest superstar. Everything about A.I.'s play style has influenced today's game, from his clothing to his attitude.
Without him, the intimate bond between hip-hop and basketball would probably look very different.
Through this documentary, we witness how Iverson grew up in poverty. At the same time, we see how he dealt with the terrible reality of growing up in a town torn apart by racial strife. On top of that, his unlawful detention nearly destroyed his sports dreams.
Despite all that, A.I. was able to attend Georgetown for two years with the help of his family, friends, coaches, and the Virginia governor. After, he got selected as the first overall draft pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Iverson is a biographical film that depicts A.I.'s life before the glamour, stardom, and skillful ball handling made him a famous NBA player.
Directors: Coodie and Chike
IMDb rating: 7.5/10
All the documentaries listed here are outstanding. However, Benji strikes a different chord. Directors Coodie and Chike brilliantly tell Ben Wilson's story. Ben, aka Benji, is a southside Chicago native.
It's a story of young talent with a special place in our hearts. After being rated the top high-school prospect in 1984, Wilson was on his way to becoming the game's next top player. Sadly, his dreams were cut short a few months later.
Benji gets shot in a fight, a few blocks away from Simeon Career Academy. He passed away when he was only 17 years old. Benji delves into the hardships many young players still face today. On the other hand, it prospects what would have happened if Wilson had a lengthy NBA career.
The film depicts the growth and untimely demise. At the same time, it reflects how the legacy of the fallen Simeon player lives on other Chicago basketballers like Derrick Rose.
6. Through the Fire
Director: Jonathan Hock
IMDb rating: 7.1/10
What are your thoughts on prep-to-pro athletes? People paid a lot of attention to this topic in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Through the Fire gives the audience a detailed view of this subject. The centerpiece of this documentary is Sebastian Telfair. He is a young basketball phenom from Coney Island.
Sebastian gets a chance to forgo college and enter the NBA right away. The cameras accompany the gifted teenager as he strives to win another championship for his high school squad.
On the other hand, he ponders whether he should attend Louisville University or pursue a career as a professional player. We get to observe his perplexity while deciding which direction to go.
7. Shut Up and Dribble
Director: Gotham Chopra
IMDb rating: 6.5/10
This documentary was named after a controversial commentary made by a Fox News host, Laura Ingraham. Laura told Kevin Durant and LeBron James to "shut up and dribble," on her Fox News program, The Ingraham Angle.
Shut Up and Dribble is a three-part documentary series narrated by award-winning journalist Jemele Hill. The series shows how professional basketball players used their position and influence for social activism.
In one of the first stories, NBA icon Bill Russell tells how people considered an African American player to be the best in the game unthinkable in the 1950s.
The series shows how many prominent players faced double standards throughout their prime.
It also discusses contentious events, such as the Malice at the Palace. That memorable incident led to the introduction of the dress code in the NBA. In addition, the film shows how the NBA grew into a progressive league led by LeBron James.
8. Bad Boys
Director: Zak Levitt
IMDb rating: 7.8/10
No, we aren't talking about the 1995 American buddy cop comedy movie. This Bad Boys movie covers the narrative of the Detroit Pistons, who won back-to-back NBA championships in the 1980s.
The Piston squad didn't have a stellar reputation. However, this documentary delivers a fresh narrative that's compelling and intriguing, despite the team's bad image.
Isaiah Thomas's snippets, in particular, come into the picture. The Detroit Pistons was one of the most contentious teams in history. As a consequence, people either adored or hated them. No matter which side you are on, Bad Boys is entertaining to watch.
9. Winning Time: Reggie Miller Vs. The New York Knicks
Director: Dan Klores
IMDb rating: 7.8/10
Between 1994 and 1996, the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks had a tense rivalry in the NBA. Famous Knicks fan Spike Lee took a jab at Indiana Pacers player Reggie Miller during the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. That little jab resulted in one of the most epic comebacks in sports history.
Miller crushed Spike's ego by scoring eight points in 8.9 seconds to defeat the Knicks in the first game of that series. Indiana gained an advantage in the series by winning the opening match. Moreover, they took advantage and defeated New York in seven games.
The Winning Time is an exciting documentary featuring interviews of Reggie, Spike, and all those involved. Prepare to relive one of the best series in NBA playoff history. You'll have a full-on experience with trash talk, heartbreak, and drama.
10. The Other Dream Team
Director: Marius Markevicius
IMDb rating: 8.4/10
More often than not, when you think of basketball or anything even remotely connected to the game, you’re likely to think of the NBA.
The chances are that names like LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry and other greats will come to your mind. It’s only normal. The NBA has done a great job marketing basketball in the United States and the game is incredibly popular in that country. However, basketball stretches far outside the borders of the US.
The Other Dream Team follows Lithuania's national basketball team while making history at the 1992 Summer Olympics.
Although the USA Dream Team won the gold medal after defeating Lithuania in the semifinals, Lithuania's success became a symbol. Their journey at the Olympics is told as a tale of their fresh political beginnings following their breakup from the Soviet Union.
The film includes actual footage from the archive and new interviews with previous players. More so, it examines the current situation of basketball in this Eastern European country. See the movie for details like how the Grateful Dead inspired the tye-dye jerseys the Lithuania team wore back then.
Conclusion: On the Best Basketball Documentaries
Former American basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski once said: "Teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one." Basketball is a beautiful sport and more than a game to win. The gameplay and talented players like Jordan, Wilson, and Agee have inspired many for decades.
These documentaries aren't mere history lessons, but they are powerful stories. Thanks to these films, we can better understand the game we enjoy and the players we love to watch.
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