"2016" and the Other 30 for 30s We Need

Writer: Caleb Akpan

ESPN’s “30 for 30” series is like no other when it comes to telling the stories that sports have to offer. In the case of the 2016 NBA Finals, that story is perfectly illustrated by two different clips from the ESPN+ series “More Than An Athlete,” which features Finals MVP LeBron James.

In the first clip released, James reminisces over his defeat of the Golden State Warriors, claiming that defeating them and bringing the city of Cleveland its first championship since 1964 made him the greatest player of all time. The Warriors had the best regular season in NBA history that year and held a 3-1 lead over James’ Cleveland Cavaliers before he led a furious comeback to take the championship in an unforgettable Game 7. The story of a series elevating a player to a status higher than any other is enough to warrant a documentary, but there’s so much more to that series.

In the second clip released, taken directly from the Cavaliers’ locker room after their game six victory, James lets his team know that he could sense Golden State was “...f----- up. Mentally and physically,” after losing two straight games. He was ready to go in for the kill and did just that in the Cavs’ game seven victory, but having the new clip just made that moment even more intense, and the potential for never-before-seen footage chronicling the Cavaliers’ comeback and Golden State’s plunge into disarray is too good to ignore.

Still, there’s so much more that could be said about that Final, those teams, that season, and the same thing can be said for many sports stories of the last decade. Here’s just a few of the recent stories that “30 for 30” could help to tell:


2016

As said previously, there’s so much that could be said about this Finals. On the surface, it’s a great comeback story, both for the Cavaliers and Cleveland sports, and James’ true rise into (at the very least) greatest of all-time discussion is enough for a feature by itself. But, then you factor in the fact that Golden State could rarely and barely be beaten prior to this series, even when they were down 3-1 themselves. You remember that Golden State took this loss so harshly that they acquired Kevin Durant in the offseason immediately following.

You remember that this Finals, for better or worse, changed the course of NBA history for years and years to come and that, more than anything, makes this story important. It didn’t just change the narrative of LeBron James or the Golden State Warriors - it changed the narrative of the NBA, a shift rarely seen in any sports league and a shift that needs to be analyzed deeper.


28-3

You know exactly what is being referenced here just by reading that score, and the notoriety of this game is exactly why Super Bowl LI deserves a detailed rehashing. Up 28-3 in the middle of the third, the world assumed the Atlanta Falcons were about to deal a crushing blow to the New England Patriots dynasty and win their first championship…..but New England is known as a dynasty for a reason. Outscoring the Falcons 31-0 the rest of the way, the Patriots did the impossible, coming back from 25 down in less than two quarters to win their fifth Super Bowl under the leadership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

The collapse by the Falcons was improbable, the Patriots comeback was one of the greatest in sports history, and the game is a contender for the best Super Bowl of all-time. A documentary down the line would probably be the only way to get Brady and Belichick speaking as honestly as possible about this amazing game, and the same could be said for those on the Falcons side of things. Let this one marinate….when everybody’s ready to talk, explaining how this happened would be amazing.


Goal Line

“Goal Line” is no “28-3”, but it would still go over an iconic Super Bowl event. Two years prior to the Patriots unlikely fifth Super Bowl win, they got their fourth win in a way that was just as shocking. With the ball on the one-yard line, their opponent in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks, looked like they would rip the Patriots hearts out with 26 seconds remaining. Seattle would achieve back-to-back Super Bowl wins if they could score and hold off a Brady Hail Mary, and with one of the best running backs in the league that year in Marshawn Lynch, doing the first part appeared easy.

So of course…..they threw the ball at the goal line, only to have it intercepted by then unknown Malcolm Butler. The Super Bowl slipped out of their hands and they haven’t been back ever since. Lynch and their Legion of Boom defense filed out of the Seahawks locker room year-by-year to the point where that Super Bowl team is non-existent outside of Russell Wilson and a few other players. As much as Super Bowl XLIX added another chapter to the Patriots dynasty, it’s the “what-if” of a Seahawks dynasty that makes this game and a potential documentary on it so intriguing.


The Great Run

The Dallas Mavericks’ playoff success going into 2011 was somewhat embarrassing. Following a Finals loss to the Miami Heat in 2006, the team had disappointed in the playoffs every year following, including being on the losing end of the biggest upset in NBA playoff history in 2007. Going into the 2011 playoffs, no one believed Dallas could win the championship and many felt they wouldn’t even make it out of the first round. What happened next shocked the world.

Led by an amazing Dirk Nowitzki run, Dallas defeated a solid Portland team, then went on to sweep the defending champions and beat a young Oklahoma City Thunder team (then with 0 MVPs) to make the Finals, where they would rematch Miami and get revenge. The Mavericks’ run as a team wasn’t just amazing because of Nowitzki’s play or the team’s prior playoff success, it was about the teams and players they faced. In hindsight, they beat former and future MVPs, all-stars, Hall of Famers, and maybe even the greatest player of all-time. To do that with a roster mainly made up of veterans who had failed to ever reach championship-winning level is the kind of story that helps make “30 for 30” so entertaining.


Roll Tide

“The U” and “The U Part 2” are two of the best films ESPN has released under the “30 for 30” umbrella, highlighting the dominance of the University of Miami’s football team in two different eras. During those two eras (spanning multiple years in the 80s and 2000s), Miami claimed five national championships. The University of Alabama has won five national championships since 2009 and they can win a sixth on Monday night. While their personalities might not pop like those at Miami, their dominance has never been seen in the modern day of college football.

Alabama’s story is probably the most mysterious when it comes to the topics on this list. They’re notorious for keeping a tight lip about things that don’t involve winning championships on the field. A more personal look on the dynamics of the teams, their rivalry with Clemson, or the NFL talent that walked through the halls in Tuscaloosa all would be interesting to see. The real question for this one would be if Nick Saban is willing to talk.