Beyond monster slam dunks and iconic Cinderella upsets, there are alluring dynamics that make basketball one of the world’s most popular sports. Factors that go far beyond city playgrounds and Hoosiers cornfields. There are a handful of compelling basketball documentaries on Netflix. They explore the growing world of hoops, traveling from Harlem to Canada and India to explore high school, college, the NBA, and even wheelchair basketball.
At All Costs (2015)
The Netflix AAU documentary scrutinizes the dark underside of amateur hoops. The harsh realities of recruiting, amateur tournaments, and sneaker money are examined by the revealing film.
At All Costs primarily follows the Compton Magic, a California AAU team subsidized by Adidas. Two of their star players (Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Gabe York) eventually earned scholarships from Arizona. After watching seedy aspects of AAU, it is no longer a surprise that Arizona was a target of an FBI investigation into NCAA recruiting violations.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s family are central figures in the film. The helicopter parents are excessively driven to have their child play for an elite program. He not only plays in AAU Tournaments in North Carolina, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., but they push him to play through injuries on the grassroots circuit. The film appropriately interviews a developmental psychologist who indicates the potential consequences of such parenting.
At All Costs notes the shift in power dynamics in college recruiting. The original influencers, high school coaches, have been usurped by the AAU. Those programs are fueled by Nike and Adidas sneaker money. “Gear, money, and access” powers their corporate interest in amateur basketball. The documentary even flashes to a Michael Jordan Nike commercial. It was a far cry from the turkeys that former NBA player Rudy Tomjanovich’s noted as his handout.
In addition to Tomjanovich, Mitch Kupchak, Scoop Jackson, Jerryd Baylis, Jay Bilas, Baron Davis, and Andre Iguodala are among the basketball figures interviewed in At All Costs. The film ranks as the best of the basketball documentaries on Netflix. It is insightful, comprehensive, and an important step in understanding “amateur” sports.
Phog Allen, The Palestra, The Garden. All great arenas that have become famous basketball sites. None have matched the impact of Rucker Park. The playground is the true Mecca of basketball development in New York City.
The Harlem outdoor court is the subject of the Netflix documentary #Rucker50. The film shies away from going in-depth with basketball aspects of the court. Instead, #Rucker50 focuses on the cultural impact of the park’s basketball league.
Founded by Holcombe Rucker, the league is hailed as “the father of all of the summer leagues.” The creed “Each One – Teach One” resulted in players receiving access to higher education. NBA players Cal Ramsey, Emmett Bryant, Bob McCullough, Bobby Jones, Bill Willoughby, and Derrick Coleman are among those interviewed in #Rucker50. Many cited the life-changing impact of Rucker Park. Not only through the NBA, but their college scholarships.
#Rucker50 also includes non-NBAers. Nancy Lieberman highlights the influence of the park on women players. Statisticians, referees, and disc jockeys are also noted as beneficiaries of Rucker Park.
The documentary comes up short on great moments in Rucker Tournament history. There is footage from 1981 and clips of Dr. J and Kobe Bryant. A newspaper clip proclaiming “Harlem Pros crush Philly” was the most enticing. The game included future NBA Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Billy Cunningham. Greater discussion on all-time memories of Rucker Park would have made #Rucker50 a more complete documentary.
One In A Billion (2016)
One of the more fascinating basketball documentaries on Netflix travels a long way from Harlem. One In A Billion follows Satnam Singh, a seven footer who became the first Indian basketball player to be drafted by the NBA.
At an early age, the giant from Ballo Ke, India was driven by the tenents of “basketball, study, and sleep.” Satnam was tapped as an NBA prospect as he grew to unreal heights (he was 5’9” at just nine years old). This made him the future of basketball in India.
One In A Billion also focuses on the NBA’s international marketing efforts. The NBA’s Troy Justice and commissioner Adam Silver are interviewed in the film. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban understates the decision to grow the game in India, saying “You can’t go wrong with a billion people.”
That billionth individual is Satnam Singh. The documentary follows Singh from Punjab to IMG Academy in Florida. From there, he tries to be noticed by NCAA schools and the NBA combine. One In A Billion even has Jerry Maguire moments at the NBA draft. The insider prospective presents the realities of an international basketball prospect looking to turn pro. That in itself is worth the watch. Tracking the complete odyssey of Satnam Singh is a great experience for basketball fans.
The Rebound (2016)
Basketball is a simple game: put the ball through the hoop. The game is no different for the Miami Heat Wheels, except that they play in wheelchairs.
The wheelchair basketball documentary The Rebound tracks a Florida NWBA squad. Like One In A Billion, The Rebound is more than just hoops. It is a film about defying odds. A variety of circumstances placed each of the teammates in wheelchairs, including car accidents and gun violence. Watching the “handi-capable” men discuss their paths tugs on the emotional heartstrings.
The film is the most inspirational of the basketball documentaries on Netflix, but The Rebound is fundamentally like any other basketball movie. The incredible athletes swish baskets and hit buzzer buzzers. There is even a dramatic sequence in the NWBA tournament.
In addition to the Heat Wheels, The Rebound also interviews three-time Paralympian Paul Schulte and Rose Hollermann. A member of the UTA Lady Movin’ Mavs, Hollerman even notes that she landed an NCAA scholarship to play wheelchair basketball.
One of the biggest lightening rods in sports history, Allen Iverson generates a lot of conversation in Philadelphia. Even though that polarizing quality is covered, the film slants pro-Iverson and loses the objectivity to capture that vibe. The most disappointing of the basketball documentaries on Netflix, Iverson often goes to great lengths to explain his side of practice habits or legal issues.
Growing up in a Hampton, Virginia, “The Answer” was a stud athlete at an early age. Iverson is enhanced by footage of A.I. competing as a youth star. The basketball video is expectedly flashy. The video of Allen Iverson as a football player is incredible. The all-world talent played special teams, safety, and was a Michael Vick-style quarterback.
Iverson spends more on his tenure as a scholastic athlete than his pro career. The 2000-01 MVP year was the only season discussed at length. Then-Sixers coach Larry Brown and team president Pat Croce are both interviewed. Croce even discussed the infamous trade that almost sent Iverson to Detroit, only to be nixed by Matt Geiger.
His stints in Denver, Detroit, Memphis, and Turkey are only briefly mentioned. One notable highlight of the Netflix basketball documentary was his famous crossover of Michael Jordan. Iverson’s international superstardom, cultural impact, and never-released hip-hop album are also mentioned.
The Carter Effect (2017)
This NBA Netflix documentary is far more entertaining than Iverson. The Carter Effect reviews another superstar with a quantifiable cultural impact: Vince Carter and the rise of pro basketball in Canada.
Featuring interviews with David Stern, Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, Butch Carter, Charles Oakley, Jerry Stackhouse, and Tristan Thompson, The Carter Effect shows how the effects of Vinsanity. Carter elevated the Raptors from a dead expansion franchise into a team with of the most passionate fanbases in the NBA. There is even footage of an interview with a young Steph Curry, whose father (Dell Curry) played with Vince Carter.
The Carter Effect gives the right dosage of basketball and business. David Stern mentions the Raptors’ marketing. A Puma executive details the Vinsansity shoe. There is even discussion of Carter’s business acumen. Drake and Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia are among the Canadians who discuss Carter’s cultural impact on Toronto.
Basketball highlights begin with video of Carter’s dunks in high school. They culminate with his famous display at the 2000 Slam Dunk contest in Oakland. There is mention of his “controversial” decision to attend his college graduation at UNC before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Iverson’s Sixers… and the missed shot that almost bumped off the would-be Eastern Conference champs.