The Best Episodes of 30 for 30
Last Updated: Dec 3, 2018
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.
#1 - 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.
#2 - 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.
#3 - Of Miracles and Men
Season 2 - Episode 27
The story of one of the greatest upsets in sports history has been told. Or has it? On a Friday evening in Lake Placid, New York, a plucky band of American collegians stunned the vaunted Soviet national team, 4-3 in the medal round of the 1980 Winter Olympic hockey competition. Americans couldn't help but believe in miracles that night, and when the members of Team USA won the gold medal two days later, they became a team for the ages. But there was another, unchronicled side to the "Miracle On Ice." The so-called bad guys from America's ideological adversary were in reality good men and outstanding players, forged into the Big Red Machine by the genius and passion of Anatoli Tarasov. There was a reason they seemed unbeatable, especially after routing the Americans in an exhibition the week before the Winter Games began. And there was a certain shame in them having to live the rest of their lives with the results of Feb. 22, 1980. In the 30 for 30 film "Of Miracles and Men," director Jonathan Hock ("The Best That Never Was" and "Survive and Advance") explores the scope of the "Miracle on Ice" through the Soviet lens. His intense focus on the game itself gives it renewed suspense and a fresh perspective. But the journey of the stunned Soviet team didn't begin -- or end -- in Lake Placid.
#4 - 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.
#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.
#6 - Tommy
Season 3 - Episode 23
It was a remarkable and compelling rise to the spotlight. But then came the stunning, confounding, and ultimately tragic fall. In the 30 for 30 film "Tommy," directors Erin Leyden and Gentry Kirby explore the story of one-time heavyweight boxing champion Tommy Morrison in a tale that's unlike any other. Born into a troubled family in the American heartland, Morrison's initial emergence as a fighter was bolstered by a starring role in Rocky V. A few years later, he beat George Foreman for the WBO heavyweight title, and seemed primed for more stardom, even in the face of blown opportunities and upset losses. But then everything changed in early 1996, when he tested positive for HIV, forcing him into retirement. From there, Morrison's life spiraled further and further downward, plagued by drug problems, jail time, and most alarmingly and bizarrely, an eventual denial that he had the virus at all. There have been other boxers, and other sports stars, whose stories ended sadly. But rarely is the loss of potential as poignant as the case of Tommy Morrison.
#7 - Into the Wind
Season 1 - Episode 23
In 1980, Terry Fox continued his fight against bone cancer with the pursuit of a singular, motivating vision: to run across Canada. Three years after having his right leg amputated six inches above the knee after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, Fox set out to cover more than a marathon's distance each day until he reached the shores of Victoria, British Columbia. Anonymous at the start of his journey, Fox steadily captured the heart of a nation with his Marathon of Hope. However the 21-year old BC native's goal was not fame, but to spread awareness and raise funds for cancer research. 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.
#8 - 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.
#9 - The '85 Bears
Season 3 - Episode 6
A look back at the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team built on ferocious defense, with big personalities who shuffled to a Super Bowl title. Jim McMahon, Mike Ditka, Mike Singletary, Buddy Ryan and William Perry are among those appearing. Directed by Jason Hehir, with executive producers Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley.
#10 - Year of the Scab
Season 3 - Episode 22
Two weeks into the 1987 season, the NFL's players went on strike. For the first time in the history of professional sports in the United States, replacement players would take the field. "No Names", "Has Beens", and "Never-Would- Be's" were plucked from obscurity for one last chance at football immortality. What they didn't know was that their golden tickets would become scarlet letters. As the strike fanned fires across the country, no one felt the heat more than the 1500 replacement players, who were caught in the crosshairs of media fueled controversy between owners, players and fans alike.
#12 - What Carter Lost
Season 3 - Episode 21
There's high school football, and then there's Texas high school football. Oddly enough though, one of the greatest teams in state history has been lost to time... and fate. What Carter Lost, directed by Adam Hootnick for ESPN Films' 30 for 30 series, is the saga of that team, the 1988 Dallas Carter Cowboys. With 21 players who were offered college scholarships and several who went on to the NFL, Carter took on the best that Texas had to offer - including the Odessa Permian team that inspired Friday Night Lights - as well as the worst, in a racially charged state-wide dispute over one player's algebra grade and Carter's legitimacy. Somehow, Carter managed to win it all on the field, and somehow, they threw it all away. Perhaps it was the Dallas police officer and Carter fan who said it best after his actions ended a string of crimes that shocked the Carter faithful to their core: "Why would you do this?" Years later, it is a question that still has no easy answer, but through searing interviews with Carter players, coaches and family members, as well as glimpses of their lives today, this film is ultimately about what Carter found.
#13 - 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.
#14 - 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”.
#15 - 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.
#16 - Seau
Season 3 - Episode 27
The life of NFL legend Junior Seau, from his upbringing in a Samoan immigrant family, through his path to NFL superstardom and status as a league icon, ending in his seemingly inexplicable suicide in 2012.
#17 - 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.
#18 - This Was the XFL
Season 3 - Episode 14
A bold challenge, a fearless experiment and ultimately, a spectacular failure. In 2001, sports entertainment titans Dick Ebersol and Vince McMahon used the marketing behemoths of their respective companies -- NBC and WWE -- and launched the XFL.
#19 - 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.
#20 - 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.
#21 - 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.
#22 - 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.
#23 - 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.
#25 - 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.