If you want to know my choice for the best basketball documentary, then I would recommend The Last Dance.
While Netflix and HBO have taken over the world with their amazing up-to-date movies and many series, as a basketball fan, nothing beats watching basketball documentaries.
The game of basketball has given us fans some of the best feelings in the world.
Whether it’s the agony of defeat or the pandemonium of victory, nothing pleases a fan more than watching everything unfold.
There are countless basketball documentaries, and each tells a story of how everything fell apart or came into victorious marches.
In this article, I’ll review the top 13 of the most inspiring basketball documentaries ever.
- The Last Dance
- Hoop Dreams
- The Fab Five
- Dream Team
- The Other Dream Team
- Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks
- Bad Boys
- Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals
- More Than A Game: LeBron James
- The Redeem Team
- Kobe Doin’ Work
- Shut Up and Dribble
Top 13 Best Basketball Documentaries
Here are some of the best documentaries to watch associated with basketball. Be inspired and amazed by how these stories captured the hearts of many.
- Year of Release: 2020
- Director: Jason Hehir
- Main Focus: Michael Jordan and his time with the Bulls organization.
Some may argue who is the greatest basketball player in history, but no one is more contested than Air Jordan himself.
However, if we’re talking about one of the best basketball documentaries of all time, there’s no denying that “The Last Dance” ranks in the upper echelon.
This documentary focuses on Michael Jordan’s time with the Chicago Bulls franchise alongside some of the greats Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
In what would be the greatest basketball team at that time, they captured 6 NBA titles in 8 years and have become one of the greatest stories in sports history.
The Last Dance was shown to the public during the COVID pandemic, and it helped focus people’s attention on Michael Jordan with his incredible ethic and spitfire persona.
2. Hoop Dreams
- Year of Release: 1994
- Director: Steve James
- Main Focus: Two aspiring basketball players trying to overcome the hurdles of living in the hood, hoping to make it to the NBA.
Nothing is more powerful in college basketball history than the stories of two middle school players, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who lived in Chicago’s dangerous, low-income community.
These kids just wanted to play basketball and try to get off the stigma surrounding black Americans living in these areas.
Hoop Dreams director Steve James captured the hearts of many with his 170-minute basketball history of college players trying to become professional players.
3. The Fab Five
- Year of Release: 2011
- Director: Jason Hehir
- Main Focus: Five outstanding freshmen changed college basketball forever. Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson.
The Fab Five Documentary (ESPN Films) highlights the lives of five outstanding freshman recruits: Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, and Juwan Howard.
This documentary covers their hoop dreams of becoming young players trying to capture the NCAA title.
While they were the first starting five first-year students to make it to the NCAA national championship game, their luck would turn for the worse as they struggled and were eventually defeated.
The Fab Five is considered one of the best college basketball documentaries as it grazed upon the new trend of players showcasing their dazzling style of play and swag that captured the hearts of many.
4. Dream Team
- Year of Release: 2012
- Director: Zak Levitt and Andy Thompson
- Main Focus: 1992 US Olympic Basketball Team
One of the most important moments in NBA history is the approval of professional basketball players to play in the Olympics.
While the rules inevitably changed when Team USA won the bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics, the coming of NBA players in Team USA brought an unprecedented spotlight across the globe.
The 1992 Dream Team introduced basketball to the highest levels as the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird comprised the Dream Team.
This group of all-stars eventually captured the Gold Medal in what would be the most dominant run of any country’s history.
It introduced a new level of basketball to basketball fans worldwide.
- Year of Release: 1992
- Director: Marius A. Markevicius
- Main Focus: The Lithuanian 1992 Basketball Team
The Other Dream Team primarily focuses on the basketball side of Lithuanian history, contrasted with the country’s separation from the USSR.
This team was composed of eventual NBA stars, including Arvydas Sabonis and Šarūnas Marčiulionis, and how they captivated the world with their dazzling play.
However, this documentary focuses more on how it went for the entire team when they got their independence from the USSR.
- Year of Release: 2010
- Director: Dan Klores
- Main Focus: The classic rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks in the 90s.
The documentary chronicles Reggie Miller and his rivalry with the New York Knicks and Spike Lee.
It is a documentary during the 1995 NBA Eastern Conference Finals wherein both teams slugged it out.
While neither team managed to snag the NBA championship during this time, it gathered an awesome spectacle wherein Spike and Reggie Miller were jawing it out on the court.
In fact, this documentary has exclusive interviews with Spike Lee and Reggie Miller, telling us what happened during that time.
It was one of those basketball documentaries wherein you relive the agony and triumph of both teams en route to magnifying their 90s rivalry. The Winning Time was an interesting one.
7. Bad Boys
- Year of Release: 2014
- Director: Zak Levitt
- Main Focus: Covering the rise and fall of the Detroit Pistons.
There aren’t as many teams as feared as the Detroit Pistons during the 80s and 90s.
With the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Joe Dumars, they struck fear into their opponents with their aggressive plays.
NBA documentaries like The Bad Boys tell the story of how a good team comprised of superstars captured glory while also the narrative of aging players and injuries.
They might be known for their intense and physical play, but this NBA documentary shed light on the situation of the Detroit Pistons regarding their stellar defensive play and their rise and fall.
- Year of Release: 2010
- Director: Ezra Edelman
- Main Focus: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rivalry.
Nothing is more vindicating than proving you are one of the best superstars in the league.
While the NBA evolved around teams turning into rivalries, this documentary showed how a rivalry could turn into a friendship, like what Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did in this documentary.
This documentary explored how their rivalry started; dating back to college when both these NBA players went back and forth with their respective college teams during their National Championship games.
And when both were drafted, the rivalry didn’t stop there. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers would eventually face in the Finals a couple of times in the 80s.
They faced in the NBA finals three times, with Bird and the Boston Celtics winning their first encounter and Magic winning the last two.
With their legendary rivalry, it was one of the moments when March Madness became highly anticipated. It is the best basketball documentary involving these two legends of the court.
- Year of Release: 2008
- Director: Kristopher Belman
- Main Focus: LeBron James and his four teammates overcoming trials.
This documentary revolved around Lebron James as one of the most talented high school basketball players in history and his struggles during his high school basketball journey.
LeBron James is undoubtedly THE best basketball prospect to come out of high school, and his final season with the school meant he was definitely under the microscope.
LeBron James, an already-famous basketball player during this time, and his four teammates, Dru Joyce III, Willie McGee, Romeo Travis, and Sian Cotton, depicted their lives as young high school basketball players in Akron, Ohio.
This documentary showcased how it feels like to get inside a teenager’s head, coming from humble beginnings and becoming one of the best high school teams in the country during this time.
- Year of Release: 2014
- Director: Zatella Betty
- Main Focus: A biographical documentary about Iverson’s professional career.
Before all the cornrows, jewelry, tattoos, and glitz, Allen Iverson lived in a town struggling with racism and harsh realities.
This documentary also showed the wrongful incarceration of Allen Iverson and how it almost destroyed his ambitions of becoming one of the greatest basketball players in sports history.
However, like most stories, he eventually gathered himself up, got help from his family and friends, worked his way to the top, and became one of the best players the NBA has ever seen.
Once the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him, everything was going well for him. He eventually won the NBA Most Valuable Player and became a multiple NBA All-Star during his legendary career.
11. The Redeem Team
- Year of Release: 2022
- Director: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Jon Weinbach
- Main Focus: Rise of Team USA Basketball from losing the 2004 Olympics, to redeeming it back again in the 2008 Olympics.
This documentary tells how the 2004 Olympic loss would eventually order a revamp of Team USA Basketball.
The documentary gives us behind-the-scenes footage of the journey of the entire 2008 Team USA Squad.
From the likes of Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron, the documentary is told from each player’s perspective on that same team.
While the documentary focused more on the entire Team USA Basketball Program, a significant focus was on Kobe Bryant and how he helped the team capture glory.
It was recently released last year, so to many basketball fans, it is still fresh in their memories. It’s one of the best basketball documentaries in recent years.
12. Kobe Doin’ Work
- Year of Release: 2009
- Director: Spike Lee
- Main Focus: Kobe and his game against the San Antonio Spurs.
This documentary focuses on the work Kobe puts in with one of his greatest rival teams in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs.
It is a mini-documentary with all cameras following Kobe Bryant as he battles the Spurs team.
- Year of Release: 2018
- Director: Gotham Chopra
- Main Focus: A 3-part in-depth documentary about the infamous line Fox New Host told LeBron and Kevin Durant. It also follows the political and social climates among athletes in the country.
This 3-part documentary highlights famous NBA players and the double standards they face during their respective careers.
The documentary also touches on some of the most infamous events in the NBA, including the Malice at the Palace fiasco, the implementation of the dress code, and how the NBA shifted into a progressive league led by NBA stars like LeBron.
What Makes A Basketball Documentary Special?
There are various reasons why a basketball documentary is special. It can inspire you, motivate you, or learn about events and how it unfolds right into the eyes of many.
Almost all documentaries tell a captivating story. It can inspire you to achieve great things or put life in a different perspective after watching the film.
Furthermore, it goes beyond the superficial level. It focuses on the lives, triumphs, challenges, and difficulties these people face daily.
These documentaries can focus on players, teams, or a wider topic of basketball. Their storytelling can engage you in many things, making documentaries special.
As mentioned, documentaries can spark emotions, from agony and disbelief to inspiration and victories.
Some documentaries may focus on struggles and how an individual has overcome them, whereas some shine the spotlight on the journey to glory.
Underdog stories create emotional connections among people, which is one reason why documentaries are special in their own way, regardless of the subject.
Historical and Cultural Significance
Some documentaries are a cut above the rest because they capture culturally and historically significant moments.
It can be rivalries, events, or just stories that have impacted the lives of many within the sport.
By discovering these details in a wider context, a documentary can powerfully connect the viewer and a broader audience.
What makes a documentary special is that it offers insightful commentary that can provide reflections, commentary, and analysis from experts, former players, and journalists and enlighten the narrative.
These commentaries and analyses can help viewers understand the game on a new level. It can also help broaden their knowledge about strategies and their impact on society.
Why Should Basketball Players Watch These Documentaries?
There are plenty of reasons why you should watch basketball documentaries.
From becoming an inspiration to becoming great or overcoming challenges that may come your way.
Here are some of the reasons why players should watch documentaries involving the game of basketball:
Inspiration and Motivation
Watching a documentary about Michael Jordan with his struggles during his first few years in the league and how he overcame these disappointments can serve as a motivation and inspiration to many.
These documentaries often highlight the highs and lows that come with being a basketball player. Like Michael Jordan, he wasn’t excused from this either.
It greatly inspires youth today that if you put in the hard work, perseverance, and dedication to your craft, you can overcome challenges and reveal something you didn’t know you had in you.
Documentaries can serve as a reminder that not everything is given but is earned.
Insights from Legends
Many basketball documentaries revolve around players that were great in their own right. Some players have left a lasting mark in the sport’s history.
A good way to study these idols of ours is to watch how they became who they are.
Watching these documentaries will show viewers how these players work, persevere, and overcome their struggles.
There are a lot of things you can learn if you watch a basketball documentary.
It can provide valuable insights and ideas that will further help them develop into becoming great players.
Documentaries are, without a doubt, some of the best genres wherein you can get up close and personal with your idols and how they became legendary players.
In some, it tells us how the story unfolds from overcoming challenges and adversities into becoming one of the success stories one could not have imagined.
Nevertheless, these documentaries should serve as an eye-opener to the youth that even some of the greatest players face challenges and how they can overcome them.