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30 for 30: The Price of Gold

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Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding's story is somehow now even stranger than it was then.  Not a lot has changed between now and then, other than that both skaters are now retired.  The public conception of both has calcified to such a degree that Kerrigan is the ice princess, and Harding is the trashy, brash challenger.

It does seem, in retrospect, that Harding got railroaded.  She was never found guilty of premeditated crime, though she did plea bargain for a lesser sentence.  She did, however, get banned from the sport for life.  Such a punishment is overly harsh, as there's hardly a smoking gun that links Harding to the crime.  She did, ultimately, suffer the additional punishment of being an outsider.  When push came to shove, she didn't have the friends or connections in the skating world to get her plea reduced, and became just another poor person eaten by the system.

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30 for 30: Youngstown Boys

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Maurice Clarett is fascinating.  Jim Tressel... was his coach?  They were both from Youngstown, which apparently means something to the directors of the film.

Clarett, after a successful freshman year at Ohio State University during which he excelled at running back and led the team to a national title, was crucified for daring, DARING to accept some kind of sanctioned gift from a booster to supplement his lack of income from the enormously profitable college sports complex he was a part of.  He then ended up as a sacrifice to the bureaucratic egoes of the NCAA, serving a two-year school-imposed suspension that was wildly out of line for his behavior.  He then made some poor choices, washed out of the NFL before the end of his first training camp, and eventually went to jail after falling into a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse.

Then, he started a blog.  It was assisted by his girlfriend, who took Maurice's notes from prison and put them into WordPress after every visit.  The blog has since been taken down, but Clarett proved himself an erudite, philosphophical writer, a distant cry from the careless thug that he was portrayed as in the media.  Hardly a shocker, I suppose, that a black man who challenges the system is portrayed as an incorrigible self-centered drug addict, but shameful nonetheless.  When Clarett was able to harness the power of the web as a platform, he was able to correct the mistaken impression that the media had given him, and make people realize that hey, maybe he got railroaded.

Youngstown Boys is a triumph, fall-from-grace, redemption story that happens to be true, and it works well.  Then they threw some stuff about Jim Tressel in there, I guess because they needed some filler time.  Anyway, it's a good movie, despite the irrelevant white father figure.


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Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

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Mike Tyson is a fascinating character.  He's very nearly the last gasp of the heavyweight champions when we still cared about such things.  (Evander Holyfield has a better claim to being the true last gasp.)  Everyone knows his name, and he was an incredibly talented fighter that has left an absolutely crazy trail in his wake.

The span of his career is mindblowing.  He has served so many roles for our culture that it's incredible

  1. A rags-to-riches heavyweight champion
  2. A convicted rapist
  3. A rehabilitated boxer
  4. An ear-biting lunatic
  5. A washed-up has-been
  6. A bankrupted victim of Don King's horrible embezzlement
  7. A shiftless addict
  8. A scene-stealing cameo artist

That's much more depth than almost any sports star gets a chance to attain, and much more varied than any would wish for.  He now lives in a strange zone of Popular Figure Emeritus, rewarded for his career by playing himself in The Hangover and its sequels.  He lends his name to the movies, seemingly in full acknowledgement that the joke is, at least in part, on him.  And this, more than anything else, seems to have reignited our love affair with Tyson.

Is it any wonder that an autobiographical tell-all with Spike Lee makes for compelling watching?  Tyson is adroit with a word, and still possesses a physicality that he uses a few times on stage to great effect.  Of course, I can't help but wonder if this is just another Tyson high, and if there's one of his consistent falls to come later.  But, at least for now, he lives in the happy part of narrative, as having overcome adversity to carve out a niche for himself. 

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Crooked Arrows

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Ryan did the music for a movie!  It was about lacrosse and what it means to be haudenosaunee and how to interpret that in the scope of modern athletic competition.  The movie is not high-budget.  It has the type of storyline that feels like the script aimed to be picked up by Disney, but fell a bit short, but then another studio picked it up.  It's definitely not the kind of movie I'd usually watch, but I got a kick out of seeing Ryan's name in the credits.  Hey, despite the tried-and-true storyline of individuals overcoming adversity through hard work to become great team, it has a more nuanced view about being native than I expected.

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Eastbound and Down

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Eastbound and Down is dumb, and it plays it up.  I finished two and a half seasons and may yet finish the last season and a half.  It's easy to watch and entertaining.   It lives and dies on its writing, which varies wildly from episode to episode.

Danny McBride as Kenny Powers is amazing.  The womanizing and fast living gets a little old at times, but I'm amazed at how they manage to keep it fresh, even though it's essentially a one-joke show.  The worst parts of the show are when McBride isn't driving the scene, such as when Will Ferrell's car infuriatingly boring recurring character comes back on.

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Bernie and Ernie

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I remember very little about this other than that it was a regurgitated tale of a white guy being friends with a black guy and them being great friends and teammates.

It wasn't even the best movie I saw this year with the word "Bernie" in the title.

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30 for 30: This is What They Want

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The 1980s sounds like a really bad time to be a men's tennis fan.  The country club sentiments of players like Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg was long gone, and the single-minded game focus of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer weren't around yet.  The two dominant American players of the decade, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were both me-first jerks who would do anything to get ahead -- perfect microcosms of everything that was wrong with the 1980s.  It would be as if your only choice was rooting for the Patriots in the NFL today.

As for the movie, it's about Jimmy Connors being a jerk.  And being a jerk in such a way that he made the fans like him anyway.  This is apparently a very important tennis match for tennis history, but as a person with only a passing interest in tennis, it was unfamiliar to me.  I think hardcore tennis fans will get more from this movie than I would.

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30 for 30: Big Shot

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This is the reason I watch the 30 for 30 series.  Some schmo whose worth is measured in thousands instead of millions maneuvered to purchase a hockey team?  And he almost got away with it?  What the hell?

There's a reason that we should be skeptical of the claims of the one percent, their justifications for inequality.  The truth is, not only did this guy almost manage to pull it off, he fooled banks, the old team owners, and even the vaunted New York media for months before it all started to unravel.  He actually owned and ran the team for a while, despite having no real financial capability to speak of.  And he did it all by pretending he belonged, and the good-old-boys club of the upper echelon of first Texas, then New York, welcomed him with open arms.  This is why it's so inexplicable to pretend that these people aren't made by circumstance.

It's a really neat film, and it even gets an interview from Spano himself, who comes across as unapologetic and arrogant, but not that much worse than the other members of sports ownership.

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30 for 30: No Mas

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The No Mas fight is more infamous than famous.  Why did Roberto Duran, a toe-to-toe slugger and the winner of the last fight, quit?  Was it really the fact that Sugar Ray Robinson was clowning and winning?  Was it really because Duran was out of shape?  Was there foulplay involved?

This documentary is pretty missable.  The big thing around it is getting Sugar Ray and Roberto Duran together to have a talk about the No Mas fight.  It's a cheesy constructed reality TV moment that, predictably, fails to generate anything out of the two boxers beyon what they have spoken about repeatedly every time they've been asked since the fight.  It is interesting to see the two as they are now, Duran in Panama and Sugar Ray in his mansion in some gated suburb, but it's not interesting enough to carry the whole film. 

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30 for 30: Free Spirits

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The ABA!  Dr. J! Blue, red, and white basketballs!

The Spirits of St. Louis were one ABA team, and one of only two that didn't get absorbed into the NBA when the ABA folded.  Why is kind of murky, possibly because the league didn't want to have a franchise in St. Louis where they had already tried a franchise and failed, possibly because the NBA didn't like the Spirits freewheeling style, built around the extremely talented and extremely unruly Marvin Barnes.  Whatever the reason, the owers of the team fought with the NBA, and secured an agreement where they get 1/7 of the money from the TV rights of each of the four teams that entered the NBA from the ABA.  This has proved extremely lucrative.

The film isn't a single great story, it just happens to have an intersection of a lot of interesting stories.  The crazy antics of Marvin Barnes, the early career of Bob Costas, the roughriding and innovative ABA, and the intricacies of sports executive management are all present.  It provides an interesting window into something that's fading from memory.

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