The Best Episodes of 30 for 30

Inspired by ESPN's anniversary, ESPN Films is launching 30 FOR 30, an unprecedented documentary series featuring 30 of today's finest storytellers telling thirty remarkable stories from the ESPN era. On their own, each of the films will be an intimate look at a specific story, relevant to larger themes from the modern era. Collectively, these films will be a diverse mosaic of what sports has meant to American and World culture in the last thirty years. Each storyteller will bring their passion and personal point of view to their film detailing the issues, trends, athletes, teams, rivalries, games and events that transformed the sports landscape from 1979 to 2009.

You Don't Know Bo

#1 - You Don't Know Bo

Season 2 - Episode 6

Bo Jackson hit 500 ft. home runs, ran over linebackers, and—for a short period—he was the best athlete we had ever seen. You Don’t Know Bo takes a closer look at the man and marketing campaign that shaped his legacy. More than 20 years later, myths and legends still surround the famously press shy athlete, and his impossible feats still capture our collective imagination.

star 8.82
79 votes
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Survive and Advance

#2 - Survive and Advance

Season 2 - Episode 7

When the 1982-83 college basketball season began, Jim Valvano and his North Carolina State Wolfpack faced high expectations with equally high aspirations. But with ten losses for the season, the Wolfpack’s only hope of making the NCAA Tournament was to win the ACC Tournament and earn the conference’s automatic berth. Nine straight improbable tournament wins later over the likes of Sampson, Jordan, Olajuwon and Drexler, N.C. State had “survived and advanced” its way to a national championship. Director Jonathan Hock takes a poignant look through the eyes of senior captain Dereck Whittenburg at a dream fulfilled and explores what at times has been a tragic and heartbreaking aftermath in the 30 years since.

star 8.79
23 votes
Directors: Jonathan Hock
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Once Brothers

#3 - Once Brothers

Season 1 - Episode 25

Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac were two friends who grew up together sharing the common bond of basketball. Together, they lifted the Yugoslavian National team to unimaginable heights. After conquering Europe, they both went to America where they became the first two foreign players to attain NBA stardom. But with the fall of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day 1991, Yugoslavia split up. A war broke out between Petrovic's Croatia and Divac's Serbia. Long buried ethnic tensions surfaced. And these two men, once brothers, were now on opposite sides of a deadly civil war. As Petrovic and Divac continued to face each other on the basketball courts of the NBA, no words passed between the two. Then, on the fateful night of June 7, 1993, Drazen Petrovic was killed in an auto accident. "Once Brothers" will tell the gripping tale of these two men, how circumstances beyond their control tore apart their friendship, and whether Divac has ever come to terms with the death of a friend before they had a chance to reconcile.

star 8.72
43 votes
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Into the Wind

#4 - Into the Wind

Season 1 - Episode 23

In 1980, Terry Fox continued to fight bone cancer and deep despair in pursuit of a singular, motivating vision—to run across Canada. Three years after having his right leg amputated six inches above the knee, Fox set out to cover more than a marathon’s distance each day until he reached the shores of Victoria, British Columbia, spreading awareness and raising funds for cancer research. Anonymous at the start of his journey, Fox steadily captured the heart of a nation with his marathon of hope. After 143 days and two-thirds of the way across Canada, with the eyes of a country watching, Fox’s journey came to an abrupt end when newly discovered tumors took over his body. Two-time NBA MVP, proud Canadian, and first-time filmmaker, Steve Nash, will share Fox’s incredible story of perseverance and hope.

star 8.65
20 votes
Directors: Steve Nash
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Bad Boys

#5 - Bad Boys

Season 2 - Episode 18

Few teams in professional sports history elicit such a wide range of emotions as the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s and early '90s. For some, the team was heroic -- made up of gritty, hard-nosed players who didn't back down from anyone. And for others, it was exactly that trait -- the willingness to do seemingly anything to win -- that made them the "Bad Boys," the team fans loved to hate. No drama is complete without compelling characters, and the Bad Boys Pistons had a full cast. Viewers will see the many factors that drove one of the best -- and most complex -- players in NBA history: Isiah Thomas, a lethal combination of sweetness on the outside and toughness within. In addition, the team was characterized by the toughness of Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn; the quiet intensity of Joe Dumars; the savvy and fearlessness of a young Dennis Rodman; the comic relief provided by John Salley; and the mixture of grit, professionalism and style possessed by coach Chuck Daly. Sandwiched between the Lakers' and Celtics' dominance of the 1980s and the Bulls' run in the 1990s, the Pistons' two titles in 1989 and '90 are often viewed as a transitional period in NBA history, rather than a dynamic championship era in its own right. But for anyone who experienced the Bad Boys in action, they more than carved out their own identity, both in the league and in American popular culture. Now, viewers will finally get the untold story behind one of the most unique championship teams in NBA history.

star 8.58
72 votes
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I Hate Christian Laettner

#6 - I Hate Christian Laettner

Season 2 - Episode 28

Christian Laettner helped Duke win two national titles in four straight trips to the Final Four. He had looks, smarts and game. So why has he been intensely disliked by so many for so long?

star 8.40
52 votes
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The Two Escobars

#7 - The Two Escobars

Season 1 - Episode 16

While rival drug cartels warred in the streets and the country’s murder rate climbed to highest in the world, the Colombian national soccer team set out to blaze a new image for their country. What followed was a mysteriously rapid rise to glory, as the team catapulted out of decades of obscurity to become one of the best teams in the world. Central to this success were two men named Escobar: Andrés, the captain and poster child of the National Team, and Pablo, the infamous drug baron who pioneered the phenomenon known in the underworld as “Narco-soccer.” But just when Colombia was expected to win the 1994 World Cup and transform its international image, the shocking murder of Andres Escobar dashed the hopes of a nation. Through the glory and the tragedy, The Two Escobars daringly investigates the secret marriage of crime and sport, and uncovers the surprising connections between the murders of Andres and Pablo.

star 8.38
48 votes
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Slaying the Badger

#8 - Slaying the Badger

Season 2 - Episode 19

Before Lance Armstrong, there was Greg LeMond, who is now the first and only American to win the Tour de France. In this engrossing documentary, LeMond looks back at the pivotal 1986 Tour, and his increasingly vicious rivalry with friend, teammate and mentor Bernard Hinault. The reigning Tour champion and brutal competitor known as "The Badger," Hinault "promised" to help LeMond to his first victory, in return for LeMond supporting him in the previous year. But in a sport that purports to reward teamwork, it's really every man for himself.

star 8.32
28 votes
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The Best that Never Was

#9 - The Best that Never Was

Season 1 - Episode 29

In 1981, college athletic recruiting changed forever as a dozen big-time football programs sat waiting for the decision by 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. More than 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.

star 8.30
37 votes
Directors: Jonathan Hock
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Pony Excess

#10 - Pony Excess

Season 1 - Episode 30

From 1981-1984, a small private school in Dallas owned the best record in college football. The Mustangs of Southern Methodist University (SMU) were riding high on the backs of the vaunted "Pony Express" backfield. But as the middle of the decade approached, the program was coming apart at the seams. Wins became the only thing that mattered as the University increasingly ceded power of the football program to the city's oil barons and real estate tycoons and flagrant and frequent NCAA violations became the norm. On February 25, 1987, the school and the sport were rocked, as the NCAA meted out "the death penalty" on a college football program for the first and only time in its history. SMU would be without football for two years, and the fan base would be without an identity for 20 more until the Mustangs' win in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl. This is the story of Dallas in the 1980's and the greed, power, and corruption that spilled from the oil fields onto the football field and all the way to the Governor's Mansion. Director Thaddeus D. Matula, a product of the SMU film school, chronicles the rise, fall, and rebirth of this once mighty team.

star 8.28
40 votes
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Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks

#11 - Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks

Season 1 - Episode 8

Reggie Miller single-handedly crushed the hearts of Knick fans multiple times. But it was the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals that solidified Miller as Public Enemy #1 in New York City. With moments to go in Game 1, and facing a seemingly insurmountable deficit of 105-99, Miller scored eight points in 8.9 seconds to give his Indiana Pacers an astonishing victory. This career-defining performance, combined with his give-and-take with Knicks fan Spike Lee, made Miller and the Knicks a highlight of the 1995 NBA playoffs. Peabody Award-winning director Dan Klores will explore how Miller proudly built his legend as “The Garden’s Greatest Villain”.

star 8.20
64 votes
Directors: Dan Klores
The Price of Gold

#12 - The Price of Gold

Season 2 - Episode 16

The world couldn't keep its eyes off two athletes at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer - Nancy Kerrigan, the elegant brunette from the Northeast and Tonya Harding, the feisty blonde engulfed in scandal. Just weeks before the Olympics on Jan. 6, 1994 at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Kerrigan was stunningly clubbed on the right knee by an unknown assailant and left wailing, "Why, why, why?" As the bizarre "why" mystery unraveled, it was revealed that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had plotted the attack with his misfit friends to literally eliminate Kerrigan from the competition. Now two decades later, "The Price of Gold" takes a fresh look through Harding's turbulent career and life at the spectacle that elevated the popularity of professional figure skating and has Harding still facing questions over what she knew and when she knew it.

star 8.18
51 votes
Fantastic Lies

#13 - Fantastic Lies

Season 3 - Episode 7

On March 13th, 2006, the Duke University lacrosse team had a party. What happened there became a nightmare that changed lives, ruined careers, tarnished a school's reputation and even jeopardized the future of the sport at Duke.

star 8.17
66 votes
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Sole Man

#14 - Sole Man

Season 2 - Episode 29

Sonny Vaccaro rose from Pennsylvania steel town roots to become one of the most powerful and influential men in the athletic shoe industry and in basketball.

star 8.11
28 votes
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June 17, 1994

#15 - June 17, 1994

Season 1 - Episode 15

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 played his last round at a U.S. Open, in Oakmont, Pa., the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Chicago, the Rangers celebrated on Broadway, 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 O.J. 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 artistically weave these moments and others to create a unique and reflective look at a day that no sports fan could forget.

star 8.10
43 votes
Directors: Brett Morgen
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Guru of Go

#16 - Guru of Go

Season 1 - Episode 9

By the mid-1980s Paul Westhead had worn out his welcome in the NBA. The best offer he could find came from an obscure small college with little 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 doorstep. 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, early in the 1989-90 season, Gathers collapsed during a game and was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat. Determined to play, Gathers returned three games later, but less than three months later, he tragically died on the court.

star 8.08
40 votes
Directors: Bill Couturie
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The Birth of Big Air

#17 - The Birth of Big Air

Season 1 - Episode 17

In 1985, at the tender age of 13, Mat Hoffman entered into the BMX circuit as an amateur, and by 16 he had risen to the professional level. Throughout his storied career, Hoffman has ignored conventional limitations, instead, focusing his efforts on the purity of the sport and the pursuit of “what’s next.” His motivations stem purely from his own ambitions, and even without endorsements, cameras, fame and fans, Hoffman would still be working to push the boundaries of gravity. Academy Award nominee Spike Jonze and extreme sport fanatic Johnny Knoxville, along with director Jeff Tremaine, will showcase the inner workings and exploits of the man who gave birth to “Big Air.”

star 8.07
30 votes
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Benji

#18 - Benji

Season 2 - Episode 4

In 1984, 17-year-old Ben Wilson was a symbol of everything promising about Chicago: a beloved, sweet-natured youngster from the city's fabled South Side, and America's most talented basketball prospect. His senseless murder the day before his senior season sent ripples through Chicago and the nation.

star 8.06
30 votes
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This Magic Moment

#19 - This Magic Moment

Season 3 - Episode 8

A look at the Shaquille O'Neal-led Orlando Magic teams of the 1990s and how they fell short of an NBA title.

star 8.05
86 votes
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Rand University

#20 - Rand University

Season 2 - Episode 25

Randy Moss has long been an enigma known for his brilliance on the football field and his problems off it. Sometimes there's even been an intersection of those two qualities. "Rand University" gets to that crossing by going back to where he came from - Rand, West Virginia - and exploring what almost derailed him before he ever became nationally known for his extraordinary abilities as a wide receiver. After overcoming troubles with the law, losing the opportunities to play at Notre Dame and Florida State and then reviving his enormously promising football career at Marshall University, all that was good and troubling about Randy Moss materialized on the day of the 1998 NFL Draft. Twenty picks were made before the Minnesota Vikings selected him in the first round. Based on what unfolded throughout Moss's NFL career, the teams that passed on him may have had a mixture of regret and relief.

star 8.02
43 votes
Directors: Marquis Daisy
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Youngstown Boys

#21 - Youngstown Boys

Season 2 - Episode 15

"Youngstown Boys" explores class and power dynamics in college sports through the parallel, interconnected journeys of one-time dynamic running back Maurice Clarett and former elite head coach Jim Tressel. Clarett and Tressel emerged from opposite sides of the tracks in Youngstown, Ohio, and then joined for a magical season at Ohio State University in 2002 that produced the first national football championship for the school in over 30 years. Shortly thereafter, though, Clarett was suspended from college football and began a downward spiral that ended with a prison term. Tressel continued at Ohio State for another eight years before his career there also ended in scandal.

star 8.00
28 votes
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The 16th Man

#22 - The 16th Man

Season 1 - Episode 13

Rugby has long been viewed in South Africa as a game for the white population, and the country’s success in the sport has been a true source of Afrikaner pride. When the 50-year-old policies and entrenched injustices of apartheid were finally overthrown in 1994, Nelson Mandela’s new government began rebuilding a nation badly in need of racial unity. So the world was watching when South Africa played host to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Though they had only one non-white player, the South African Springboks gained supporters of all colors as they made an improbable run into the final match where they beat the heavily favored New Zealand team. When Mandela himself marched to the center of the pitch cloaked in a Springbok jersey and shook hands with the captain of the South African team, two nations became one. Oscar winner Morgan Freeman and director Cliff Bestall will tell the emotional story of that cornerstone moment and what it meant to South Africa’s healing process.

star 8.00
30 votes
Big Shot

#23 - Big Shot

Season 2 - Episode 12

In 1996, the once-dominant New York Islanders were in serious trouble. Lousy performance and poor management were driving away the hockey franchise's loyal fan base. The team hit bottom. Then along came a Dallas businessman named John Spano, who swooped in and agreed to buy the team for 165 million dollars. Things began to look up for the Islanders - way up. But it was all smoke and mirrors. "Big Shot" goes inside an extraordinary scandal that engulfed the Islanders. Featuring the only interview Spano has ever given about the Islanders deal, this film is an unforgettable tale of a dream that became a lie -- and how a scam of such epic proportions initially went undetected.

star 7.95
40 votes
Directors: Kevin Connolly
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Requiem for the Big East

#24 - Requiem for the Big East

Season 2 - Episode 17

"Requiem For The Big East" explores the meteoric ascension of the Big East Conference and how, in less than a decade under the innovative leadership of founder and commissioner Dave Gavitt, it became the most successful college sports league in America. Told primarily through the lens of famed Big East coaches such as Jim Boeheim, Lou Carnesecca and John Thompson as well as some of its most iconic players such as Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Ed Pinckney, the film chronicles the story of an extraordinary group who rode the rivalries and successes of their teams to become household names. The Big East was a groundbreaking athletic and business creation that encapsulated the era and region in which it was born -- from the toughness of the players and coaches hailing from some of the Northeast's most storied cities, to the executives and Wall Street brokers who thrived because of it. Launched in 1979 -- the same year that ESPN was born -- the Big East used the burgeoning cable TV channel and the media as a whole to help spread its gospel and product to fans and future players across the country. But "Requiem For The Big East" is also a tale of change as the super conference eventually found itself in a new era fighting for survival.

star 7.94
32 votes
Directors: Ezra Edelman
Trojan War

#25 - Trojan War

Season 3 - Episode 1

The rise and fall of USC Trojans football during Pete Carroll's coaching tenure.

star 7.90
67 votes
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