Films with a Fighting Spirit: 10 Best Sports Documentaries

Thursday, September 8 by Honora James

The 10 best sports documentaries reveal the vulnerable underbelly of amateur and professional sports. The weaknesses include racial bigotry, legal and illegal drug abuse, broken dreams, jealousy and groupies. These ten sports videos remove fanciful impressions through factual storytelling of the way it really was. Once you’ve checked these out, take a look at some of the awesome realism and drama of sports over at Buzzer Beat.

“Baseball” Ken Burns produced and directed this baseball documentary, which first aired on PBS. Burns crafted an exquisite baseball documentary from the inception of the game up to the 1990s, compartmentalizing the history of the game into nine inning segments.

“Hoop Dreams” The harsh reality of inner city project life has crushed the dreams of many who have dared to try to escape its confines. Tw high school freshmen, William Gates and Arthur Agee, dared to dream their basketball skills held the key to fame and fortune. This sports documentary captures their emotional journey.

“Pumping Iron” Have you ever wondered what life is like for bodybuilders leading up to a major competition? If so, this is the documentary for you. Featured bodybuilders in the film are the defending Mr. Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his top challengers, Lou Ferrigno and Franco Columbu.

“Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” The world of heavyweight boxing changed forever in 1908 when Jack Johnson defeated Tommy Burns to become the first black heavyweight boxing champion. Johnson’s brash attitude and penchant for white women at a time when racial bigotry was at its height earned him disdain inside and outside the boxing ring.

“Murder Ball” The focus of this sports documentary is the fierce competition between the US and Canadian paraplegic murderball teams at the 2004 World Paralympic Games that had roots in the US Nationals. An antagonistic relationship develops between the former US top player, Joe Soares, and the new top player, Mark Zupan. Soares, cut from the US team heads up to Canada, and is named coach of the Canadian murderball team.

“Once In a Lifetime: The Story of the New York Cosmos” In 1971, the New York Cosmos joined the National American Soccer League with an international player’s roster that included, Pelé, Beckenhauer and Cagnalia. The team soon became the centerpiece o the league, but the popularity of New York’s glamour team began to decline in 1977 when Pelé retired.

“When We Were Kings” One of the mega events in the boxing world occurred in Kinshasa, Zaire, as Muhammed Ali stepped back into the boxing ring to reclaim the heavyweight boxing title from George Foreman. The fight happened against the backdrop of apartheid and the hype of promoter Don King. The fight footage is engrossing as well as what went on behind the scenes.

 “Black Magic”  Black Magic traces the evolution of basketball from its Springfield, Massachusetts origins to its period of overt racial discrimination and its progression to a growing number of black basketball players and coaches.

“Dogtown and Z-Boys” Z-Boys were small band of young surf enthusiasts who translated the exhilaration of riding the waves into spectacular skateboarding feats on land. With help from a local surf shop owner, the kids formed a skateboarders team and took on the name of the surf shop Zephyr Productions Sport Shop. The Zephyr Skate Team shortened the name to Z-Boys for local competitions

 “King of Kong” For more than two decades in the video gaming world, Billy Mitchell was the reigning king of Donkey Kong, that is, until Steve Wiebe came along. The documentary captures the gamesmanship of the two men as they vie to claim the Donkey Kong scoring record.

The best sports documentaries are a microcosm of society broken down into individual stories. Their stories draw us in deeper with each viewing, which is why these are the best sports documentaries.