Tribeca Film Festival 2017: ESPN Sports Shorts

When I was sent to view five sports-themed short films at Tribeca Film Festival my idea for an article was simple. Rank them from worst to, pointing out what I did and didn’t like. But after watching all the videos, this task proved impossible. ESPN sure hit these films out of the park. There is no way for me to rank one over the other as they were all excellently made and I found them all fascinating. So instead of ranking them, I will place them in categories.

 

The Comedy

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The Amazing Adventures of Wally and the Worm: This was the most humorous of the films as it detailed the relationship built between Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, a player who was as well known for his crazy and eccentric actions as he was for his rebounding prowess, and Wally Blaze, the assistant athletic trainer fresh out of college. After Rodman suffers an injury the Bulls send him out to LA to rehab, and assign Blaze to watch him and report back on his progress. Over the weeks that Dennis was recovering they establish a unique friendship that they continue to have until this day. This unlikely friendship is the human equivalent of a “Lion and Baby Deer Become Unlikely Friends” viral video on YouTube.

The What If?

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Bump & Spike: As a person who enjoys playing volleyball as well as watching it during the Olympics, I always wondered why it never evolved into at least a semi-major American sport. This documentary illustrates the rise and fall of the International Volleyball Association, the first and last attempt to create a major volleyball league. The league got off to a great start with great players, great fans, and great owners. It was crazy competitive and action packed, and it was the only co-ed competitive league ever created. And then David Wolper, one of the original owners and founders, had a major heart attack. He was forced to sell his team, and once he left he pulled out the rest of the movie mogul owners with him. This led to the eventual sale of Denver’s team to David and Robert Casey. What was unknown was that the money used to buy and run the team was coming from a major drug dealing operation. Their arrest was a shot that the newly formed IVA could never recover from. The league slowly minimized and was out of business shortly. What if David Wolper never had a heart attack, and the original group of owners led their teams for the next dozen years? Would we be talking about five major North American sports?

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Revolution in the Ring: Muhammad Ali versus Teofilo Stevenson very well could’ve been the greatest boxing match in history. Everyone knows who Ali was, but Stevenson is relatively unknown. (I never even heard of him until I watched this great documentary.) The best boxer in Cuba and a staunch supporter of Fidel Castro and his policies, Stevenson was a star in Cuba. After dominating the amateur boxers in the Olympics, someone posed the idea of pitting Stevenson against “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali. The fight looked all but set, but with tensions so high between the two governments behind the respective fighters, the event was ultimately cancelled, creating one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in sports history. Who would’ve won? Many say Ali would’ve massacred Stevenson who was used to the amateur circuit. Others say Ali was already passed his prime, and that the nimble yet powerful Stevenson wouldn’t let him “float like a butterfly” around him. In truth we will never know who would’ve won that fight but what we do know is that the potential greatest boxing match in history never happened because of politics.

The Feel Good Story

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Run Mama Run: The story of Sarah Brown’s journey to the Olympic trials is truly amazing. A top high school sprinter, the Olympics were always a goal for Brown. After a few unfortunate injuries it seemed like she was finally going to qualify to make the American team. And then she found out that she was pregnant. Amazingly, she refused to let this joyous news slow her down, and with the doctor’s permission continued to go full throttle on achieving her Olympic dream. After having her baby she was faced by yet another setback, this time in the form of a tumor. Showing extreme resiliency, she had the tumor removed and resumed training through the pain. She amazingly made it to the Olympic qualifiers only to have her Achilles blow out on her halfway through the sprint. Even though she didn’t make the team, the story of her climb is one that made everyone root for her.

The Scandal

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The Counterfeiter: This documentary, chronicling the takedown of the biggest fraudulent memorabilia scandal ever, is fascinating. It not only gives you a look into the life of an “artist” (and possibly the greatest forger of all time), but brings you along on the investigation to take him down as well. The fact that he was so good that experts in the field couldn’t tell the difference between his stuff and the real deal showed you that he really possessed a unique talent.

Ultimately, all of these films were made exceptionally well and were extremely interesting. Another job well done by ESPN, and I highly recommend that you watch all of these as soon as release dates are announced.

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