This was originally published in The Athletic....
If you’re like me, and for your sake, I cannot express how much I hope you’re not, you have not only devoured every second of “The Last Dance,” but you’ve spent the immediate days after each episode mining the internet for anything even loosely related to what you just watched on ESPN’s epic Michael Jordan-centered documentary.
Also, if you’re like me, then the quality of “The Last Dance” has you thinking about sports documentaries.
Is it the best sports documentary I’ve ever seen? I need some time to answer that so that I’m not subjected to recency bias or nerdy nitpicks I have (um, no Marv Albert interviews?).
It is, no matter where I might rank it on a list of all-time best sports documentaries, insanely fun to watch. It has nearly every ingredient of a perfect sports doc: a main subject who’s willing to share things he’s rarely spoken about on the record, interviews with dozens of the story’s key figures, an antagonist in former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, an incredible amount of unseen footage, and stopping-off points that allow the viewer to re-live certain moments while learning new details about others.
“The Last Dance” has made me yearn for more projects like it, especially since its conclusion isn’t going to give way to live events of any kind for a while. ESPN did announce that more documentaries are in the offing, including one on the 1998 MLB home run chase that saved baseball, even if everyone even remotely connected to the sport at the time would like to forget that it happened.
Being a Cincinnati sports fan with a renewed appetite for well-made sports documentaries, I came up with subjects for possible Cincinnati sports docs. Some could potentially play well to a national audience, and others would appeal mostly to local viewers. Working with the theme of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, I listed, you guessed it, 30 ideas – 15 subjects worthy of at least an hourlong feature, then 15 of them worth a short 20-to-30-minute film.
To any filmmakers reading this in need of an idea or inspiration, you’re welcome in advance.
Full-length documentary subjects …
Marge Schott. I’m slightly surprised that Marge hasn’t already gotten the 30 for 30 treatment. She was a nationally known figure as a rather beloved local baseball owner before she became nationally infamous as a cringe-inducing civic figure. She owned the Reds during the time of one of the franchise’s greatest triumphs and yet became their most recognizable figure through a series of embarrassing moments and statements that ultimately led to her being stripped of day-to-day operations of the club.
The number of idiotic things Schott said during the 1990s alone would fill two hours of airtime before the subject of how she ran her baseball team would even be touched. There would be no shortage of people willing to share anecdotes about, memories of and grievances with a woman people still talk about 16 years after her passing.
The Cincinnati Royals. Most folks know that Cincinnati was once the home of an NBA team, but how many people really know much about the Royals? Most could tell you that Oscar Robertson played for them, but – channeling my inner 30 for 30 voiceover guy – what if I told you that six other Hall of Famers also wore a Royals uniform? What if I told you that after taking a 2-1 lead over the four-time defending champion Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals, the Royals were forced out of their home gym because of the circus?
What if I told you that on two different occasions, Cincinnati’s NBA team came within a game of ensuring that Boston’s run of consecutive seasons winning a title wouldn’t eventually reach eight?
What if I told you the Royals had multiple “home” arenas across Ohio, and that they once were forced to play home games in Omaha? What if I told you that in one season the Royals had both the NBA’s MVP and its rookie of the year?
What if I told you that in Maurice Stokes, the Royals had a player who struck his head on the court with such force that he would suffer a brain injury that would lead to seizures and paralysis?
What if I told you that growing apathy toward the Royals led a famous national sports writer to author a piece in which he called out Cincinnati fans for their indifference to every team in town?
What if I told you those things and found someone who supported it with archival footage, relevant interviews and great storytelling? You’d watch. So would I.
Reggie Williams. Reggie’s NFL career included 14 seasons in Cincinnati, two Super Bowl appearances, the NFL’s Man of the Year Award and being named a Sports Illustrated’s Co-Sportsman of the Year. He is ranked second in franchise history in games played, and toward the end of his career, he became known for alternating football with his service as Cincinnati City Council member.
His post-football years have been just as interesting, and both difficult and uplifting. Williams served as director of Sports Development for Walt Disney World in 1993, then as vice president of Disney Sports Attractions, overseeing the development ofDisney’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
He’s also worked exhaustively to fight a bone infection in his right leg, staving off amputation by undergoing more than 20 surgeries.
Few current or former Bengals have had the Football Life of Reggie Williams, and if NFL Network made him the subject of an episode of one of their acclaimed hour-long profiles, I would absolutely watch.
Bob Huggins’ ouster at UC.If a filmmaker could get the full cooperation of the main particulars, the inside story of how an immensely popular college basketball coach saw his reign come to an end would make for a really interesting project. The early-to-mid-2000s were an insane time for the University of Cincinnati’s basketball program, including a heartbreaking combination of on-court triumphs and disappointments, Huggins’ nearly fatal 2002 heart attack and his seemingly fate-sealing arrest for driving under the influence in 2004.
Add the arrival of school president Nancy Zimpher, the school’s 2003 acceptance into the Big East, the dynamics of Huggins’ departure that left the program gutted and Mick Cronin accepting the challenge of rebuilding UC basketball while repairing the widespread hurt feelings resulting from Huggins’ ouster, and you’d have a hell of a story.
To read my entire list, go to The Athletic.
(Photo: Getty Images)