Believe me, there is nothing I’d like to do more after work on this dreary Friday than to go home home, slump on the couch and put on some basketball. Or hockey. Or golf, or darts, or spring training baseball or any of the other hundreds of sporting events canceled due to the unthinkable spread of coronavirus.
But the health and safety of players, coaches, faculty and fans has been compromised due to the extremely contagious nature of the virus, and as a result, the sports world is taking the necessary precautions. That doesn’t mean you’re completely stuck without sports, though.
Thanks to Netflix, there are several options available to temporarily provide sports relief. Here are some options, ranked within each sport, to help you curb your hunger for the excitement only accessible through sporting events.
3. Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story (7.1/10 IMDB | 78% Rotten Tomatoes)
Chien-Ming Wang was a very good pitcher for a couple of years in the majors, but wasn’t necessarily a household name. His 68-34 career record, bolstered by two consecutive 19-win seasons with the Yankees in which he was considered their ace, reflects his short-term success. However, his career statistics aren’t the focal point of his biographical documentary on Netflix.
Instead, the film focuses on Wang’s fall from dominance following injuries and his attempt to fight back to the spotlight he once occupied. The film received high praise from critics and fans alike, collecting three nominations and winning two awards at major Asian film festivals (via iMDB).
2. The Battered Bastards of Baseball (8.0/10 IMDB | 94% Rotten Tomatoes)
A quirky documentary, The Battered Bastards of Baseball features Bing Russell (the father of Kurt Russell, who appears in a movie on this list) and his determined quest to bring baseball back to Portland, Oregon after the city was stripped of its minor league team. The Mavericks (no, they weren’t named the Portland Bastards despite the title of the film) went on to feature a roster of former big leaguers, Hollywood castaways and an ensemble of extremely interesting characters.
Kurt Russell is not the only recognizable figure to have played for the team. Jim Bouton, best known for his tell-all classic Ball Four, played with the team after the bulk of his big league days and inspired the title of the film. Joe Garagiola, a recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his many contributions to the game, was also on the team. The team’s batboy, Todd Field, became very successful in the film industry and found his biggest success as a writer for the 2006 film Little Children for which he was nominated for several awards.
1. The Natural (7.5/10 IMDB | 88% Rotten Tomatoes)
Robert Redford did NOT play baseball with former classmate and Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale despite the rumors, but he sure put on a show in the 1984 classic film The Natural. He looks like a natural, which helps to make the otherwise unbelievable plot easier and more enjoyable to consume.
It’s a story that rises and falls and brings your mood along with it, and though it differentiates completely from the book in its ending (perhaps, unfortunately, not for the better), the scandal, romance and classic ballplayer banter makes it a must-see for all baseball fans. Roy Hobbs, Pop Fisher, Harriet Bird and the entire cast of characters are forever entrenched in baseball mythology.
3. The Carter Effect (7.1/10 IMDB | 50% Rotten Tomatoes)
Okay, so that may not be the best review from Rotten Tomatoes, as the Tomatometer score officially identifies a film as “rotten” if it’s below 60%.
With that out of the way, could you ask for a more perfect time to rewatch the incredible career of Carter and soak in the legacy of Vinsanity? The 8x All-Star may have played his last game if the NBA season doesn’t continue, sending NBA Twitter into a frenzy in order to pay him his respects.
The Dunk Contest would not be the same without his immobilizing performance in 2000. Toronto would not have found its footing and relevance in the basketball world had it not been for his explosion onto the scene in the late 90s. And an entire generation of superstars would have lost a major influence in playing the game above the rim. It’s only right that you embrace Carter’s electric career for what could be the last time by checking out this documentary.
2. Iverson (7.0/10 IMDB | N/A Rotten Tomatoes)
Allen “The Answer” Iverson wasn’t necessarily a polarizing figure while he was on the court. Everyone loved and respected his ability on the floor as the perpetual underdog given his height and pugnacious attitude. Iverson leads all NBA players who are 6’0” and under with an astounding 26.7 ppg average, 99 win shares and 20.9 PER (among qualified candidates).
That’s not to say his career wasn’t filled with its fair share of lows, too. His upbringing was defined by poverty, he has a criminal record with various different alleged cases on it and he didn’t exactly represent the type of role models most parents would want their kids idolizing given his love of vulgar hip hop and his frequent gambling.
All of this, the good and the bad, is intertwined in this documentary that features a lot of first-person perspective from Iverson himself, giving you a look into his life and access that sports documentaries rarely offer.
1. Space Jam (6.4/10 IMDB | 63% Rotten Tomatoes)
Forget the ratings… this is a movie that simply can’t be topped in the basketball department of Netflix. A cult classic through and through that combines two of the elements that defined my childhood -- Looney Tunes and basketball -- Space Jam drew enough of a following that a second one is in development with LeBron James as the NBA icon.
The cast is undoubtedly the greatest ensemble of athletes ever assembled for a movie, given that Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and several other stars were all a part of the ridiculous premise. Apparently, NBA fans are already using Space Jam as a way to get their basketball fill, as the movie has risen quite high among the trending titles that Netflix has to offer.
*Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez* (7.4/10 IMDB | 82% Rotten Tomatoes)
This one gets an asterisk as it’s more of a TV documentary miniseries than it is a movie. However, it’s still more than worth watching, as it captures all the twists and turns in Hernandez’s breathtaking case.
3. The Longest Yard (7.1/10 IMDB | 75% Rotten Tomatoes)
As good as Adam Sandler’s reboot was in 2005, featuring Nelly, the Great Khali and, most importantly, Burt Reynolds, it doesn’t quite stack up to the original. Reynolds steals the show as the ringleader of a group of convicts who take out their frustration on the football field, which gets complicated by the politics of prison life.
“Incidental punishment after the ball is blown dead” continues to live as one of the finest play calls in football history, though I’m not so sure it would pass in today’s NFL. If you want the lighter side of football, this one's for you.
2. Any Given Sunday (6.9/10 IMDB | 73% Rotten Tomatoes)
Intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships are equally as important to the plot of Any Given Sunday, featuring a great cast that includes Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid and Cameron Diaz. Steamin’ Willie Beamen was the mobile quarterback that now dominates the NFL, but luckily, many of the quarterbacks who have faced similar scenarios have not undergone the same identity crisis as Beamen when he dealt with his newfound fame.
Beamen’s career trajectory has been a comparison utilized in NFL talk about young quarterbacks rising to the occasion, showing that the film’s legacy has transcended Hollywood and become a part of a football fan’s lingo.
1. Undefeated (7.7/10 IMDB | 89% Rotten Tomatoes)
High school sports often feature a treasure trove of exceptionally inspirational yet unknown stories, and that’s exactly what this documentary brings to light. One of the most highly acclaimed sports documentaries in recent years, this story showcases human sacrifice, a fight against all odds and all of the other elements needed in creating a powerful feature.
Head coach Bill Courtney is one of those everyday American heroes who never would have been recognized if not for this documentary bringing to light his actions in enabling the Manassas Tigers to play enjoyable football in circumstances that wouldn’t ordinarily allow it. It’s heart wrenching and inspiring in every which way, and there’s a good reason this movie won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
6. Ali (6.8/10 IMDB | 65% Rotten Tomatoes)
Personally, I think that the best way to uncover the story of Muhammad Ali’s life and legacy is through Jonathan Eig’s Ali: A Life. However, not everyone is a reader out there, and Will Smith’s performance as Ali is more than passable. Like all athletes worth making a movie about, there were highs and lows across the timespan that the film covers, covering just a portion of the intrigue that defines Ali’s global popularity.
Don’t go into the movie expecting actual boxing action reminiscent of Rocky or Creed, as the film falls a little bit flat in these areas. However, Ali’s story is front and center, and Smith, Jon Voight, Jamie Foxx and others work together well to keep you entertained.
5. Beyond The Mat (7.6/10 IMDB | 83% Rotten Tomatoes)
Fans of the current WWE may not be as surprised as some of the tell-all scenes of this documentary, given some of the reform that has taken place in the organization to make it more family-friendly and more clearly scripted. John Oliver’s important look inside the WWE also gave us a glimpse into the reality of the organization.
But at the time of its release, a lot of the information in Beyond The Mat was shocking. It’s still interesting to see some of our favorite personalities, including Mick Foley and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, deal with family life and see how their close relatives react knowing that what they’re doing certainly does put them at risk of severe injuries and pain.
4. Jerry Maguire (7.3/10 IMDB | 79% Rotten Tomatoes)
When people think of a sports agent, it may be fictional agent Jerry Maguire that comes to mind before anyone real. That’s because Tom Cruise delivers a performance that earned him a Golden Globe for portraying the morally confused and egotistical sports agent that can’t separate work and real life. The cast surrounding him, including Cuba Gooding Jr. (Oscar winner) and Reese Witherspoon, are all entirely spot-on in their roles.
“Show me the money” has now entered into sports slang because of the forever memorable phone exchange between player and agent, and despite the parts of Maguire’s life that don’t go as planned, the film has inspired countless aspirational teens to pursue the exciting life of a sports agent.
3. Icarus (7.9/10 IMDB | 94% Rotten Tomatoes)
Icarus might as well be separated into two movies, because the complete twist in direction that occurs in the film is one of the most shocking of any documentaries I’ve seen. If you went into this movie expecting it to be about the effects of doping on an athlete’s body… hold on tight.
You’re partially right. But the eventual uncovering of something much, much bigger is what defines Icarus, and director and documentarian Bryan Fogel does a tremendous job keeping you engaged with his journey every step of the way.
2. Miracle (7.5/10 IMDB | 90% Rotten Tomatoes)
Whenever I had a substitute teacher in elementary or middle school, Miracle was always the movie of choice (thankfully). It’s a fantastic movie that holds all of the traditional values of a sports drama, including the stereotypical underdog, the intimidating opponent and all the struggles that go into making such a clash a feasible undertaking.
But given the importance in American history and the nostalgia behind such an event, Miracle delivers the same power and emotion every time you watch it. It’s especially relevant now, as it was commemorated for its 40-year anniversary just this past February.
1. Raging Bull (8.2/10 IMDB | 93% Rotten Tomatoes)
The perfect example of a tragic hero, Jake LaMotta’s tumultuous life as a boxer is portrayed unapologetically by Robert DeNiro in one of the greatest sports films of all time. Solely recounting the details of LaMotta’s behavior and actions don’t do his life justice, but this movie certainly does.
Boxing has fallen off greatly in terms of the nationally recognized figures that take the ring everyday, and characters like LaMotta don’t sprout up regularly throughout the world of sports. It’s tales of his out-of-the-ring struggles that captivate the audience more than what goes on during actual fights.