Skip to main content

Professional sports have taken a break in order to protect players and fans from the coronavirus outbreak. Sadly, that leaves die-hard sports fans in a dark, unknown period of time with no live sports to watch for weeks and possibly months.

What if I told you… there was a great way to spend time digesting sports in a time like this: ESPN’s 30 for 30 catalog. They feature stories from heartwarming to gutwrenching, from triumph to defeat. Learning about the history of sports is something many people put on the back burner while they follow live sports, but now is a perfect time to delve into the greatest sports stories ever.

Here are 5 must-watch ESPN 30 for 30 films, ranked.

5. I Hate Christian Laettner

So did everyone else in the late 80s and early 90s.

Christian Laettner was the original Duke player despised by the entire country outside of Durham, N.C. But why did all of college basketball hate him? Laettner is the only player in NCAA history to start in four straight Final Fours. He led Duke to two national titles while averaging 16.6 points per game in his college career. He also made possibly the most dramatic shot in the history of the NCAA Tournament in 1992 to beat Kentucky at the buzzer. It is now known across the basketball world as “The Shot.”

Laettner is one of the most decorated college athletes ever, but he was far from adored. “I Hate Christian Laettner” details his incredible run for Duke and the hatred that surrounded it.

4. Without Bias

Without Bias is one of the more saddening films in the 30 for 30 franchise. It tells the story of college basketball sensation Len Bias and his tragic death in 1986. Bias overdosed on cocaine just two days after getting drafted by the Boston Celtics. He was the second overall pick in the 1986 draft, and many thought he could be an all-time great.

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 23.2 points and seven rebounds per game in his senior season. He shot 54.4 percent from the field and even 86.4 percent from the free-throw line. Bias was a slam dunk of a draft pick, but his choices away from basketball made it so he never stepped foot on an NBA court.

3. Survive and Advance

Survive and Advance presents a beautiful mix of heartwarming reminiscence and the sad reality of death that we all face. Jim Valvano and the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack made one of the most unprecedented runs in NCAA Tournament history.

The No. 6 seed in the West region shocked the world by upsetting the Houston Cougars in the national championship, but their title run was a story much deeper than that one game and that final shot. Survive and Advance tells the miraculous story of NC State’s road to glory and Valvano’s battle with cancer that followed.

In the words of the late coach, “Every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things.”

2. The U

Watching The U is one of the most fun experiences you can have while watching a documentary. The University of Miami football teams in the 1980s had as much swagger as they did talent. The “Bad Boys” of college football took the world by storm, on and off the field.

This documentary profiled the racial and cultural shift the country was going through in the 1980s and how the Miami football program was the biggest indicator of that in the sports world. From Michael Irvin to Vinny Testaverde to Jimmie Johnson and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, those Miami teams were bursting with personality. They were a cocky, talented bunch that knew how to win. But that wasn’t the entire story.

There is also a sequel to The U, The U Part 2.

1. The Two Escobars

The Two Escobars is a fascinating tale that plays out more like a thriller than a documentary. It’s the story of drugs, politics, and sports in Columbia all meshing together at the same time to create a ticking time bomb.

Pablo Escobar controlled all of the drug crime in Columbia, and his rise to power saw the crime rates spike rapidly in his home country. Meanwhile, Andres Escobar was leading the Columbian national soccer team to a possible World Cup in 1994. One was tearing down the country while the other was lifting it up.

Their paths crossed prior to the World Cup, and chaos followed. The Two Escobars is the most gripping 30 for 30 film in the entire franchise, and it’s a must-watch.