A black-and-white shot of Bill Russell from above, as he is about to lay the ball into the hoop.


The Last Dance, The Redeem Team, Bill Russell: Legend, and Last Chance U cover different ballers with the same love of the game.

26 July 20238 min read

Basketball is more than just a ball and a hoop. It’s poetry, drama, highlights, and fast-paced action. It’s the players, who pour countless hours into perfecting their game, parlaying that experience into every thunderous dunk, sensuous finger roll, and defensive stop — all with the sole purpose of winning. 

Besides witnessing the thrilling athletic spectacle of the sport, true basketball fans know there’s another layer of enjoyment: It’s following a team or a player’s story through ups and downs, transitions and trades. Whether you proclaim Michael Jordan or LeBron James the GOAT, you know there were steps the players had to take before they could win at the highest level. You know that Jordan’s failure to make his high school varsity team seeded his greatness. What we remember are the journeys, not the final scores of any of their games. 

While basketball documentaries such as The Last Dance, The Redeem Team, Bill Russell: Legend, and Last Chance U: Basketball highlight ballers at different places in their careers, each of them brings us closer to the players we love to watch. From the legendary dynasty of the Chicago Bulls to Bill Russell’s tenacious path to stardom, from the comeback story of the 2004 U.S.A. Olympic team to the inspiring underdog community college team at East Los Angeles College, these docs will remind you of the power of sports.


A black-and-white shot of Bill Russell, getting swarmed by fans. His glowing smile makes me want to ask for his autograph as well. 

Bill Russell

Bill Russell, a five-time NBA M.V.P., 12-time NBA All-Star, and 11-time NBA champion, may be the greatest winner in the history of American team sports. In Bill Russell: Legend director Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI, Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power) carefully chronicles the life and career of the NBA Hall of Fame center. The moving documentary offers a fascinating and comprehensive glimpse into the life of a basketball great and social rights activist, from his time growing up in Louisiana and Oakland to his winning run with the Celtics and the adversity he faced throughout. 

Known for pioneering a defensive style in basketball through verticality and physical intimidation, Russell helped lead the Celtics to 11 titles in his 13 seasons with the team. He accomplished this, and his aforementioned accolades, while battling racial discrimination and facing threats on his life in the city he won those championships for: Boston. Bill Russell: Legend highlights the player’s strength as well as his leadership: Russell served as the Celtics’s player-coach for three seasons — after the retirement of legendary coach Red Auerbach — becoming the first Black coach in the NBA.

Through archival interviews with Russell’s former teammates and adversaries such as Jerry West, Larry Bird, and Wilt Chamberlain, and interviews with current stars such as Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Jayson Tatum, the film carefully highlights all of Russell’s on-court triumphs and dives into his activism and his search for meaning after retirement. 


Michael Jordan wears his red-black-and-white Chicago Bulls uniform, including a championship cap, and holds a basketball in his lap.

Michael Jordan

Photograph by Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images

Winning at the highest level requires not only talent but also a coaching staff to maximize that skill and athletes that can check their individual egos in favor of collective success. No team better exemplified this rarified combination than the six-time NBA championship-winning 1990s Chicago Bulls, led by one of the NBA’s greatest players, Michael Jordan. But success is rarely gained without overcoming some adversity. 

Emmy-winning docuseries The Last Dance provides an all-access look at the 1997-98 NBA season as Jordan and the Bulls attempt to win their sixth title, knowing that this will likely be their final run together as management looks to rebuild the team. Throughout the 10-part series, directed by Jason Hehir, fans get incredible access to one of the greatest dynasties in team sports, including an in-depth look at Jordan’s impact on basketball and popular culture. In the current climate, where it’s common for fans to have access to athletes’ lives via social media, it’s remarkable to witness the undiluted power of Jordan’s celebrity. The series also features behind-the-scenes looks into Number 23’s competitive drive and relentless pursuit of winning. 

While Jordan takes center stage, the series also highlights the personal stories, challenges, and contributions of teammates Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Steve Kerr, and their legendary coach Phil Jackson, adding various layers to why the last title of that dynasty was both remarkable and bittersweet. Between the nostalgia of reliving the Bulls’ heyday and the series’ insight into one of the most iconic eras in sports history, there isn’t a moment of The Last Dance that fails to capture your attention.


Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant wear U.S.A. Olympic uniforms and hold their hands to their chests.

Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant

There was once a time — the 1990s — when the United States could simply send its top NBA stars into the Olympics and the force of that talent alone was enough to secure a cache of gold medals. 

That all changed in 2004. Thanks in large part to the dominance and allure of the 1992 U.S.A. team, known as the Dream Team, kids across the globe grew up with a newfound lust for the sport of basketball. By the early 2000s, some of the NBA’s most dynamic players — Argentina’s Manu Ginóbili, China’s Yao Ming, and Spain’s Pau Gasol, to name a few — hailed from across the globe. So when the U.S. Team suffered an embarrassing bronze medal finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the national basketball program was overhauled to create the framework of a true Olympic team. 

Disaster in Athens set the stage for the 2008 Beijing games, which would serve as the proving grounds for the United States’ international basketball comeback. Directed by Jon Weinbach (The Last Dance) and executive-produced by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, The Redeem Team explores the humiliation of the Athens games and how James, Wade, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, and Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski sought to right the ship. The film highlights the moments that helped bring talented players from across the NBA together with the goal of returning the U.S. to basketball supremacy. The film is filled with archival practice footage and explores how the late Bryant contributed to the group’s Olympic success, which culminated in a pressure-packed  Wmedal-winning game against a strong Spain Team.


East Los Angeles College Huskies surround their coach in the gym. Their uniforms are green, grey, and white and they look a little sweaty and nervous.

East Los Angeles College Huskies

When is basketball more than a game? When it represents hope. Following five seasons of Last Chance U covering football, the latest edition of the Last Chance U series, Last Chance U: Basketball offers a raw look inside the world of community college basketball as it follows the East Los Angeles College (ELAC) Huskies basketball program, a community college team full of heart. Whether contending with difficult pasts or academic or financial struggles, each player that joins the Huskies is there to achieve their dreams in basketball and beyond. Feeling a responsibility to bring the team together and help each person realize their full potential both on and off the court, Coach Mosley and his staff are intense and hold nothing back. Away from the gym, the series, which is directed by Greg Whiteley, Adam Leibowitz, and Daniel George McDonald, highlights how the staff mentors each player to make sure they’re excelling in the classroom.

Husky practices are demanding, and the games are beautifully shot to illustrate the importance of each play and every possession. Audiences will be captivated by Mosley’s passion and fire along with the challenges faced by the student-athletes in trying to prove their worth to the world and to themselves.