Basketball documentaries can be about more than just the sport, as they often delve into players’ and teams’ personal lives, struggles, and triumphs. From legendary rivalries to the heart-wrenching stories of players who faced adversity, these documentaries can inspire and teach life lessons.
In this list we’ll look at 10 documentaries that offer a captivating look at various aspects of the sport, from personal stories to historical rivalries, that will engage basketball fans and non-fans alike. They also provide a window into the lives of some of the most iconic and influential figures in basketball history, revealing the dedication, perseverance, and talent that has shaped the game and inspired generations of athletes and fans.
Note: This list is sorted by IMDb rating, with ratings accurate at the time of writing.
The Iverson documentary is a compelling biographical film that delves into the life of NBA superstar Allen Iverson. From his humble beginnings in a poverty-stricken town fraught with racial tensions to his rise as one of the league’s most influential players, the documentary provides an intimate look at Iverson’s personal journey.
Before reaching fame and showcasing his remarkable skills on the court, Iverson faced significant challenges in his early life. Wrongfully incarcerated, his athletic ambitions were nearly derailed. However, with the support of his family, friends, coaches, and the intervention of the Virginia governor, Iverson managed to attend Georgetown for two years before becoming the first overall draft pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.
The documentary not only explores Iverson’s undeniable talent on the court but also delves into the controversies that surrounded his professional career. Through interviews with Iverson himself and the key people in his life, the film revisits crucial moments when basketball and the support of his loved ones proved to be a lifeline. By offering an in-depth look at the obstacles Iverson overcame and the impact he had on the game, the documentary sheds new light on the life of this iconic player.
The Redeem Team (2022)
The Redeem Team documentary shines a light on the incredible journey of USA basketball legends like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James as they sought to reclaim the gold medal at the Olympics following an embarrassing exit at the 2004 games. With Netflix’s release of this film, we are reminded of the dedication, perseverance, and hard work that these athletes put into their pursuit of greatness, uncovering a story that goes beyond what we initially thought we knew.
Directed by Jon Weinbach, who is best known for The Last Dance and the Nike Air Jordan film Air, this documentary delves deeper into the lives and careers of these basketball icons, giving us a glimpse behind the curtain and revealing the personal sacrifices they made to bring glory to their nation.
This eye-opening film allows us to understand the game and its players on a deeper level, and while the documentary is centered around USA Basketball, there is also a special focus on Kobe Bryant and his legacy. The Redeem Team documentary is a must-watch for basketball enthusiasts and anyone interested in the inspiring journey of these exceptional athletes.
The Benji documentary tells the poignant and tragic story of Chicago basketball phenom Ben “Benji” Wilson, whose promising future was abruptly cut short by a senseless act of violence. Set in the backdrop of Chicago’s South Side, the film provides an in-depth look at Wilson’s life, his impact on the city, and the legacy he left behind.
In 1984, during his senior year at Simeon Career Academy, Wilson was widely regarded as the best basketball prospect in the country. His bright future, however, came to a tragic end when he was fatally shot during an altercation near his school.
Through interviews, archival footage, and heartfelt testimonials, directors Chike Ozah and Coodie Simmons paint a vivid picture of Wilson’s life, his rise to prominence, and the sorrowful aftermath of his untimely death. The film also explores the lasting influence that Wilson’s story has had on subsequent generations of Chicago basketball players, including NBA star Derrick Rose.
Benji is a powerful and moving documentary that not only pays tribute to a fallen sports hero but also provides a stark reminder of the senseless violence that continues to plague communities across the United States.
Untold: Malice at the Palace (2021)
Metacritic: 87 (for the whole Untold series, season 1)
Untold: Malice at the Palace is a riveting documentary that delves into one of the most infamous incidents in sports history: the massive brawl that erupted during a game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons on November 19, 2004. As the opening episode of Netflix’s larger sports docuseries, “Untold”, this episode provides an in-depth look at the events leading up to and during the altercation, as well as the lasting impact it had on the NBA and its players.
Featuring never-before-seen footage and interviews from key players involved, such as Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal, and even some of the fans who took part in the fight, this documentary offers an unparalleled perspective on the notorious event. The Malice at the Palace not only changed the course of basketball history, but it also reshaped the way fans interact with athletes during games.
Untold: Malice at the Palace is a must-watch for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the tensions and dynamics that led to one of the most shocking moments in sports history. The documentary sheds light on the human side of the story, revealing the emotions, thoughts, and consequences faced by the players and fans involved.
More Than a Game (2008)
More Than a Game is a compelling documentary that provides a unique glimpse into the lives of LeBron James and four of his high school teammates, Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, Willie McGee, and Romeo Travis, as they experience the highs and lows of high school basketball in Akron, Ohio. The film follows their journey from a relatively unknown team to national basketball sensations.
Directed by Kristopher Belman, More Than a Game offers a rare opportunity to gain insights into the mindset of a young LeBron James, who would later become one of the greatest basketball players in the world. The documentary captures the camaraderie, dedication, and challenges faced by the group of friends as they chase their dreams together.
Even those who may not be fans of LeBron James can appreciate the depth and authenticity of this film, as it delves into the personal struggles and triumphs of these young athletes. More Than a Game is not only about basketball; it is also a testament to the power of friendship, resilience, and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks (2010)
Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks documentary showcases the unforgettable rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks in the 1990s. It delves into the iconic moments and drama surrounding the heated battles on the court, including clutch shots by Reggie Miller and his legendary feud with filmmaker Spike Lee.
This documentary takes us back to the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals, when Spike Lee’s courtside taunting inadvertently fueled Reggie Miller’s fire, leading to an extraordinary comeback. In Game One of the series, Miller scored an astounding eight points in just 8.9 seconds, securing a victory for the Pacers and crushing Lee’s spirits. This win gave Indiana a crucial advantage that ultimately helped them triumph over New York in seven games.
Featuring candid interviews with Reggie Miller, Spike Lee, and other key figures involved in the rivalry, the documentary offers an in-depth look at the emotions, trash talk, and heartbreak that characterized one of the most captivating series in NBA playoff history. Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks is an essential watch for basketball fans eager to relive the drama and excitement of this unforgettable era in the sport.
The Fab Five (2011)
The Fab Five documentary tells the remarkable and groundbreaking story of the University of Michigan’s men’s basketball team during the early 1990s. Comprised of five talented freshmen—Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson—this starting lineup made history as the first all-freshman group to reach the NCAA National Championship game.
Produced by Jason Hehir and part of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 For 30 series, the film delves into the lives and experiences of these five young men who revolutionized the sport with their style, swagger, and unapologetic attitude. The team’s signature look, which included bald heads, black socks, and baggy shorts, would go on to have a lasting impact on the game of basketball and popular culture.
The documentary features interviews with the players themselves, their coaches, and other key figures from that era, providing a comprehensive and candid look at their rise to prominence, the challenges they faced along the way, and the lasting effects of their pioneering spirit on the sport. The Fab Five is a must-watch for basketball enthusiasts, as well as fans of hip-hop and ’90s pop culture, offering a captivating and inspiring look at a pivotal moment in sports history.
Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals (2010)
Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals is a compelling documentary that explores the intense rivalry between basketball legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, which ultimately helped reinvigorate the NBA’s popularity in the 1980s. Their on-court battles for championships led to a unique and unbreakable bond between the two superstars, paving the way for the NBA’s modern era.
The documentary delves deeply into not only their rivalry on the court, but also their personal backgrounds and the challenges they faced. It examines Bird’s early experiences with African Americans and the mutual respect they developed for one another, which shaped his views on race as an adult. Bird remained focused on his abilities as a player, avoiding getting drawn into discussions about race, even when confronted by other NBA players like Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas.
The film also poignantly depicts Magic’s womanizing past, which ultimately led to him contracting HIV. It showcases the heartfelt moments when Magic confided in Bird about his diagnosis, revealing the depth of their friendship that had formed through their storied rivalry.
Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals is an extraordinary documentary that goes beyond the surface of their legendary battles on the court, providing an in-depth look at the personal lives, challenges, and friendship that developed between these two iconic athletes.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Hoop Dreams is a powerful documentary that transcends the realm of basketball, delving into themes of race, education, and social class. The film follows the lives of two aspiring young African-American basketball players, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they navigate the challenges of growing up in impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago while pursuing their dreams of reaching the NBA.
Directed by Steve James, this critically acclaimed documentary spans a running time of 170 minutes, with each moment expertly crafted to captivate the audience. Hoop Dreams showcases the struggles and triumphs of Gates and Agee as they balance their passion for basketball with the harsh realities of life in their communities.
The film features a range of emotional scenes, from Arthur’s father buying crack on the same playground where his son practices basketball, to the elation when Gates achieves the necessary ACT score to gain acceptance into Marquette University. Hoop Dreams is not just for basketball fans but also for anyone interested in exploring the complex interplay of race, education, and socioeconomic factors in American society. It provides a profound and intimate portrait of two young men striving to overcome adversity and fulfill their dreams.
The Last Dance (2020)
The Last Dance is an enthralling documentary that provides an inside look into the story of Michael Jordan and the legendary Chicago Bulls dynasty. Focusing on never-before-seen footage from the team’s final season together in 1998, this 10-part series offers a unique perspective on one of the greatest basketball teams in history.
From the moment the documentary was announced in 2018, fans eagerly awaited its release. The anticipation grew even more during the Coronavirus pandemic when sports came to a halt, leaving fans craving for their basketball fix. The Last Dance delivered precisely what they were looking for: a raw, unfiltered exploration of the Chicago Bulls and their journey to greatness.
The documentary’s breadth is truly astonishing, providing an unprecedented level of access to the inner workings of the team and solidifying Michael Jordan’s status as the greatest player of all time. The Last Dance delves into the stories we thought we knew, revealing even more fascinating truths about the team’s experiences. Featuring captivating co-stars such as Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen, the series showcases the immense challenges the Bulls faced, despite making their success seem effortless.
The Last Dance is an essential watch for basketball fans of all ages, especially those who may not have experienced the Bulls’ glory days firsthand. The documentary captures the essence of what made this team iconic and provides a captivating glimpse into the world of professional basketball at its highest level.