Starring: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant
Direction: Jon Weinbach
atching basketball is not just a favorite pastime in the United States alone. Like certain sports with a global following - such as football and tennis - basketball also has a global audience. From Spain to Croatia, various countries have formally organized teams.
However, for a long time, it seemed that basketball was always NBA-based. On the surface, long after Michael Jordan retired, it seemed as if the United States was a global champion in the sport.
As it turns out, America has done a brilliant job of promoting certain sports from baseball to basketball.
You think of players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and the image that opens in the mind is of players who have become stars (around the world) due to their sizzling game on the court, and their celebrity off-court.
But no matter which team has won the most championships or has a following of the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce and even Adele, the ultimate test wasn’t an NBA championship. It was playing and winning at what is the ultimate platform. Winning at such a global stage meant something else altogether. But with its pristine image, NBA made the world believe that it had the best teams and players in the world. However, even as different teams within the NBA won championships over the years, why is it that the US couldn‘t find success on the global stage? How could the USA Basketball team be salvaged from losing global fans and perhaps even home fans?
The makers of The Last Dance knew these were the obvious questions and so they have unveiled The Redeem Team, a documentary with a title given to the basketball team that went to the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 by the press in America.
A disastrous streak imposed a great deal of pressure, but the stakes were unusually high because of past performances.
The Redeem Team is about that intersection of basketball, lesser-known players with rivalries going back years, and why even in team sport, someone has to rise as a leader.
Unlike The Last Dance, The Redeem Team is not a documentary series; it is a documentary film that traces America’s victory at the Beijing Olympics in the summer of 2008 after a less-than-victorious past.
If The Last Dance had its share of sports celebrities like Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and even Phil Jackson, The Redeem Team had one major star player: Kobe Bryant.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, who are big names now, hadn’t proven themselves during that particular time period.
Why is this film particularly fetching or why did it win an Emmy earlier this year for Outstanding Long Sports Documentary?
It is a lesson, (among other things), in how you have to work with what you have and not wallow. Most players didn’t know each other as well because they came from different NBA teams and many were lesser-known players. They did share one vision, one aim: winning the gold medal.
Everything else had to be put aside. This is storytelling offering different perspectives and leading us to a unique vantage point.
It was also about how a loss in one game can be used as a motivator to do better next time and not use it as an occasion to sulk.
If Michael Jordan was the star of The Last Dance, mainly because of just shots of him on the court and how he made it look like poetry in motion, the same can be said about Kobe Bryant in The Redeem Team.
Running over 90 minutes, it is as much a homage to Bryant, who has since passed away, as it is for any sports-interested person to witness how to change a bad streak to a good one.
How did they manage it?
By telling us the backstory first. America lost at men’s basketball as a gold medalist team back-to-back, even with the great Jordan in one of the Olympian teams.
As aerial shots of Beijing Summer Games 2008 play, a newscaster openly states that the 2008 team was dubbed ‘The Redeem Team’ due to the stack of losses America had incurred in the past.
But as we see Bryant and James, talking to the camera, they were clear what this was about: it was bigger than them, it was about national spirit and at the Olympics, you have to have that spirit and hunger driving you.
But The Redeem Team also fought negativity through the press. USA basketball and the NBA did design a special team but even so no player was spared by the media. Such a climate is not exactly needed but somehow the players put that negativity and weight aside as they prepped for the games.
Between interviews, shots of the team rehearsing in Las Vegas, Nevada for the Olympics become part of the narrative through crisp editing.
And as we watch the film, we also realize that Kobe Bryant rose to the occasion even though he was already a global brand by then. When he arrived in Beijing, fans were super thrilled. Instead of partying, particularly after losing a game, Bryant would head back to the gym, impressing other players into following suit. Kobe says in the documentary that he knew they’d win but during the actual days, it was his time in the gym that pushed others to follow and keep focus on the larger picture. Even players who were expected to not go beyond assists made shots they never had in the past, leading America to victory.
The docuseries also makes you wonder what basketball would look like if Bryant hadn’t passed and LeBron had come into his own by then.
They would’ve made any team shudder. But if America does owe gold success to one person, it is Kobe Bryant, who carried the team with a positive spirit while they were being called losers in their home country.
For fans of sports, or Kobe Bryant and America’s turn from losing gold to winning it, this is a terrific documentary.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection