Peter Berg, Ron Shelton, Brett Morgen and Steve James to Turn Lens Toward Sports Stories
ESPN Films is announcing 10 additional filmmakers for its ambitious “30 for 30” film project. The filmmakers include Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), Academy Award nominee Ron Shelton (Bull Durham), Academy Award nominee Brett Morgen (On the Ropes), and Academy Award nominee Steve James (Hoop Dreams), as well as Academy Award winner Bill Couturié, Peabody Award winner Fritz Mitchell,Reggie Rock Bythewood, Jonathan Hock, Jeff Zimbalist and the duo of Lucas Jansen and Adam Kurland. These noted directors will delve into sports stories of the past 30 years – from Wayne Gretzky’s trade and Michael Jordan’s stint in the minors to the birth of fantasy sports and the murder of soccer player Andres Escobar. Debuting in October 2009, “30 for 30” will gather 30 filmmakers to each create one-hour films on topics from 1979 to 2009, ESPN’s first 30 years.
Kings Ransom (Peter Berg)
On August 9, 1988, the NHL was forever changed with the single stroke of a pen. The Edmonton Oilers, fresh off their third Stanley Cup victory in four years, signed a deal exporting Wayne Gretzky, Canadian national treasure and the greatest hockey player ever, to the Los Angeles Kings. Acclaimed director Peter Berg presents the captivating story of the trade that knocked the wind out of an entire country and placed a star-studded city right at the humble feet of “the Great One.”
Jordan Plays Baseball (Ron Shelton)
In the fall of 1993, in his prime and at the summit of the sports world, Michael Jordan walked away from pro basketball. Having just finished a remarkable year on top in which he won a gold medal and a third NBA Championship, Jordan signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox to rekindle his childhood love of baseball. Ron Shelton, a former minor leaguer who brought his experiences to life in the classic movie Bull Durham, along with Asylum Entertainment will revisit Jordan’s short career in the minor leagues and explore the motivations that drove the world’s most competitive athlete to play a new sport in the relative obscurity of Birmingham, Alabama for a young manager named Terry Francona.
June 17, 1994 (Brett Morgen)
Do you remember where you were on June 17, 1994? Thanks to a wide array of unrelated, coast-to-coast occurrences, this Friday has come to be known for its firsts, lasts, triumphs and tragedy. Arnold Palmer retired at Torrey Pines, the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Chicago, the Rangers celebrated on Broadway, Ken Griffey Jr. reached a milestone in Kansas City, Patrick Ewing desperately pursued a long evasive championship in the Garden and Donald Fehr stared down the baseball owners. And yet, all of that was a prelude to OJ Simpson leading America on a slow speed chase in a white Ford Bronco around Los Angeles. Oscar-nominated and Peabody Award-winning director Brett Morgen will weave these moments and others to create a unique and nostalgic look at a day that every sports fan will remember.
The Allen Iverson Story (Steve James)
On February 13, 1993, 17-year-old Bethel High School basketball star Allen Iverson entered a Hampton, Virginia bowling alley with several classmates. It was supposed to be an ordinary evening, but it became a night that defined Iverson’s young life—a quarrel soon erupted into a brawl pitting Iverson’s young, black friends against a group of older white men. The fallout from the fight and the handling of the subsequent trial landed the nation’s best high school athlete in jail and sharply divided the city along racial lines. Oscar nominee Steve James (Hoop Dreams) returns to his hometown of Hampton, where he once played basketball, to take a personal look at this still disputed incident and examine its impact on Iverson and the shared community.
The Gurus of Go (Bill Couturié)
By the mid 1980’s, Paul Westhead had worn out his welcome in the NBA. The best offer he could find came from an obscure small college with no history of basketball. In the same city where he had won an NBA championship with Magic and Kareem, Westhead was determined to perfect his non-stop run-and-gun offensive system at Loyola Marymount. His shoot-first offense appeared doomed to fail until Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, two talented players from Westhead’s hometown of Philadelphia, arrived gift wrapped at his door-step. With Gathers and Kimble leading a record-scoring charge, Westhead’s system suddenly dazzled the world of college basketball and turned conventional thinking on its head. But then, after a strong start to the 1989-90 season, Gathers collapsed during a game and was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat. Determined to play, Gathers tragically died on the court on March 4, 1990. Working with both Westhead and Kimble, Oscar-winning director Bill Couturié will tell a fast-paced and emotionally moving story of innovation, triumph and tragedy.
The Rise and Fall of Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder (Fritz Mitchell)
The NFL Today on CBS was the preeminent sports program on television in the early 1980s. It was a perfect combination of reporting, analysis, predictions, humor and talent. But there was no personality on the show more popular than Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. The son of Greek immigrants, Jimmy overcame early childhood tragedy, moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in the mid 1950s, and quickly became the biggest name in the world of sports handicapping. When CBS added him as an “analyst” on The NFL Today, “The Greek” not only further increased his stature as a sort of national folk hero, but he also gained an air of respectability never before associated with gamblers. Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Fritz Mitchell, who broke in as a researcher on The NFL Today, will examine Snyder’s impact on the growth of sports gambling, while also taking a fresh look at The Greek’s tragic downfall.
One Night in Vegas (Reggie Rock Bythewood)
On the evening of September 7, 1996, Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon met in the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to contend for the WBA title belt. At this point in his career, Tyson’s fights had become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, where the ever present hype of the professional boxing scene would come face to face with the worlds of big business, Hollywood, and hip hop. Sitting ringside was controversial rapper Tupac Shakur. Following Tyson’s victory, Shakur and “Iron Mike” were to celebrate at an after party, but Shakur never arrived. Shakur was brutally gunned down outside of the MGM Grand shortly after the fight, and the scene in Las Vegas quickly turned from would be celebratory revelry to ill fated and inopportune tragedy. Director Reggie Rock Bythewood, with the full cooperation of Mike Tyson, will tell not only the story of that infamous night but of the remarkable friendship between Tyson and Tupac.
The Best that Never Was (Jonathan Hock)
The face of college recruiting changed in 1981. That was the year a dozen big time football programs sat waiting for the decision of a physically powerful and lightning-quick high school running back named Marcus Dupree. Having already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, Dupree attracted recruiters from schools in every major conference to his hometown of Philadelphia, Miss. Just a decade removed from being a flashpoint in the civil rights struggle, Philadelphia was once again thrust back into the national spotlight. Dupree took the attention in stride, and committed to Oklahoma. What followed, though, was a forgettable college career littered with conflict, injury and oversized expectations. Eight-time Emmy Award winner Jonathan Hock will examine why this star burned out so young and how he ultimately used football to redeem himself.
The Two Escobars (Jeff Zimbalist)
In an early match against the United States in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Colombia’s star defenseman, Andres Escobar, scored an own goal that led to the team’s elimination. Less than two weeks later, Escobar was gunned down outside a bar in a suburb of Medellin. He was shot 12 times, and the murderer shouted “goal” each time the trigger was pulled. Director Jeff Zimbalist will examine the role Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel played in building the sport of soccer in Colombia and the mysterious events leading up to and surrounding Andres Escobar’s death.
Silly Little Game (Adam Kurland and Lucas Jansen)
Fantasy Sports is a $4 billion dollar industry that boasts more than 20 million participants and a league for almost every sport imaginable. But for all this success, the story of the game’s inception is little known. The modern fantasy leagues can be traced back to a motley group of writers and academics who met at La Rotisserie Francaise in New York City to form a baseball league of their own: The Rotisserie League. The game quickly grew in popularity, and with the growing use and popularity of the Internet, the “Founding Fathers” never foresaw how their creation would take off and ultimately leave them behind. Innovative filmmakers Adam Kurland and Lucas Jansen will chronicle the early development and ultimate explosion of Rotisserie Baseball, and shine a light on its mostly unnoticed innovators.
The 10 filmmakers join previously announced “30 for 30” participants: Peabody Award winner Dan Klores (King of the New York Streets), two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (The Steinbrenner Family Business), Academy Award winner Barry Levinson (The Band That Wouldn’t Die), Academy Award nominee Albert Maysles (Muhammad and Larry), two-time NBA MVP and first-time filmmaker Steve Nash (Terry Fox), Academy Award nominee Mike Tollin (Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?), Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman (The U) and two-time Academy Award nominee Spike Lee (TBD).
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