The “30 for 30” documentary series from ESPN is ESPN at its finest. Lucky for us, there are more docs coming, soon. Here’s the newest lineup, debuting on Tuesday, October 1 at 8 p.m. ET… on ESPN!
Here are the plot summaries, of films on a tragedy-befallen Hawaiian surfer, the Spirits of St. Louis, the “No Mas” fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Robert Duran, the Islanders’ ownership scandal, Jimmy Connors’ legendary ’91 US Open run and the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding rivalry.
Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau (Director: Sam George), Tuesday, Oct. 1, 8 p.m., “Eddie Would Go.” It’s a phrase that has long carried deep meaning with countless Hawaiians and surfers worldwide. Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau goes beyond those famous three words and chronicles the remarkable life and power of Eddie Aikau, the legendary Hawaiian big wave surfer, pioneering lifeguard and ultimately doomed crew member of the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule’a. With a rich combination of archival imagery, contemporary interviews and meticulously researched historical source material, this film is a compelling exploration of the tragic decline and extraordinary re-birth of the Hawaiian culture as personified by a native son whose dynamic life and heroic death served as inspiration to an entire spiritual movement.
Free Spirits (Director: Daniel H. Forer), Tuesday, Oct. 8, 8 p.m., When the NBA merged with the American Basketball Association in 1976, four ABA franchises joined the more established league – the Nets, Nuggets, Pacers and Spurs. But one of the odd teams out found a different way to secure its future. Free Spirits tells the colorful story of the Spirits of St. Louis – an entertaining and at times controversial team featuring stars like Marvin “Bad News” Barnes and James “Fly” Williams with an upstart sportscaster named Bob Costas calling the play-by-play. The Spirits managed to pull off a stunning playoff upset of the defending champions in their first season, and then, on their way to franchise extinction, co-owners Daniel and Ozzie Silna managed to negotiate a contract that has allowed the team to continue to exist in the most unusual fashion.
No Mas, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 8 p.m., (Director: Eric Drath) In the midst of boxing’s contemporary golden age – the 1980’s – stood two fighters who established a captivating rivalry. Their pair of bouts within a span of just over 5 months in 1980 had all the trappings of instant classics. Sugar Ray Leonard, an American hero, who had become a household name after a Gold Medal-winning performance at the 1976 Summer Olympics that led to numerous corporate sponsorships, versus the Latino champion, Roberto Duran, the toughest – some said meanest – fighter of all time. It was not just the drama and action of these fights that would endure, but those two words uttered in the second of their clashes, which would create a sense of mystery, bewilderment and intrigue to the present day. No Mas unveils for the first time what really happened, going behind the scenes of these two showdowns with the help of boxing experts, family members and the two fighters themselves.
Big Shot (Director: Kevin Connolly), Tuesday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m., In 1996, the once-dominant New York Islanders were in serious trouble. Lousy performance and poor management were driving away the hockey franchise’s loyal fan base. The team hit bottom. Then along came a Dallas businessman named John Spano, who swooped in and agreed to buy the team for 165 million dollars. Things began to look up for the Islanders – way up. But it was all smoke and mirrors. Big Shot goes inside an extraordinary scandal that engulfed the Islanders. Featuring the only interview Spano has ever given about the Islanders deal, this film is an unforgettable tale of a dream that became a lie – and how a scam of such epic proportions initially went undetected.
This is What They Want (Directors: Brian Koppelman and David Levien), Tuesday, Oct. 29, 8 p.m., When Jimmy Connors arrived in New York for the 1991 U.S. Open, the one-time tennis superstar was 8 years removed from his last Grand Slam singles title, ranked 174th in the world and approaching his 39th birthday. Not exactly a recipe for success. But on the verge of a quick first-round exit, Connors suddenly and unexpectedly re-captured the magic, embarking on a stirring and extraordinary run than included an epic contest with Aaron Krickstein on his way to the semifinals. This is What They Want not only illuminates this highly improbably march past a series of talented and youthful adversaries, it also explores how Connors became a polarizing and provocative personality who helped make tennis a high-octane spectator sport.
Tonya and Nancy (Director: Nanette Burstein), Nov. 5, 8 p.m., Tuesday American hopes for a gold medal in women’s figure skating at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway rested on two very different but equally fascinating personalities: Nancy Kerrigan, the elegant brunette from Massachusetts, and Tonya Harding, the fiery blonde from Oregon. On January 6, 1994, after a practice session at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Kerrigan was stunningly clubbed on the right knee by an unknown assailant and left wailing, “Why, why, why?” As the bizarre “why” mystery unraveled, it was revealed that Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had plotted the attack with his misfit friends to literally eliminate Kerrigan from the competition. Now two decades later, Tonya and Nancy takes a fresh look through revealing new interviews with the Harding and Kerrigan camps at a unique worldwide spectacle.
Yes, the director of the Islanders movie is E from “Entourage.”