ESPN’s 30 for 30 brand has become the standard for sports documentaries that air on cable television and that are featured around the world. The documentary on former National Football League running back O.J. Simpson that first aired across the ESPN family of networks in 2016 is worthy of winning multiple awards. Roughly eight hours in length, this piece is a must for anybody who believes that he or she already knows all that there is to know about Simpson’s rise and fall, about the supposed “Trial of the Century” and about all that happened in Simpson’s life and career following that trial. It is not a stretch to suggest that ESPN will never produce a better documentary, if only because the Simpson story is so unique.
It seems as if the 30 for 30 brand only picks up momentum with each story and with each rumored movie. Because of what we have seen from directors and movies, there is a “bucket list” of sorts as it pertains to 30 for 30 films we’d love to watch if they were to be created. Former athletes and clubs are included on that list, as is a fighting promotion that no longer exists but was, while it was at his best, as fun as any organization of its kind. We hope that ESPN keeps the solid 30 for 30 movies coming for the foreseeable future. Viewing patters suggest those movies will continue to be hits in the ratings for ESPN.
15 Harry Redknapp
We start with a fun idea. Not every 30 for 30 made has to be so serious and without levity. The career path forged by Harry Redknapp is fascinating and would make for quite the documentary. Redknapp won Champions League games while leading Tottenham Hotspur, but he fell out of favor with Spurs and eventually found his way out of the Premier League.
A 30 for 30 that featured only clips of Redknapp conducting interviews from his car would be worth it. It would also be interesting to hear Redknapp speak, in depth, about nearly becoming the manager of the England national team and also about all that happened during his final days as the Tottenham manager. People can say whatever they want about Redknapp’s failures and about his tactics. He can produce quality soundbites seemingly on a whim. This 30 for 30 would be gold if the right individuals produced the film.
14 Pride FC
Younger fans of mixed martial arts will never understand how good we had it roughly a decade ago when both the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pride FC existed. Pride was just plain fun during its best days, and it was different than the UFC and from anything that many of us had ever before witnessed.
The story of the rise and fall of Pride is one that should be told for an ESPN 30 for 30. That tale could include discussions of the all-time great fighters who made their names in Pride and who found fame while signed with that promotion. It would also be interesting to know just how close we were to Pride and the UFC co-existing under the same company umbrella, similar to what happened when World Wrestling Entertainment purchased World Championship Wrestling in the spring of 2001.
13 Floyd Mayweather
For this to be a solid 30 for 30, Floyd Mayweather would have to be willing to speak candidly on multiple subjects. For starters, the director of the film would need to record Mayweather’s comments on the well-known allegations of domestic violence made against him. Mayweather would also have to comment on any feud he had with UFC star Ronda Rousey.
Other than that, the film could give us looks at how Mayweather is spending his days as a retired fighter who has literally hundreds of millions of dollars. You may love Mayweather. You may refuse to support him because of alleged acts of violence outside of the ring. People may not be interested in spending money to watch Mayweather fight these days, but we would tune into ESPN to watch a documentary about his life. Besides: This could be just another way that Mayweather makes some extra cash.
12 Joe Thomas
We can see the eyes of some readers rolling at even the thought of a 30 for 30 based on the career of Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas. Think about all that Thomas has achieved since being drafted by the Browns a decade ago. Thomas is widely perceived as one of the greatest offensive linemen of his generation. With that said, he has only played on a winning team in one season of his career. Thomas has never participated in even a single playoff game. Despite the Browns being a laughingstock of a franchise, Thomas has never forced an exit from Cleveland to play for a contender.
What is it that makes Thomas click? Why, with the twilight of his career facing him, does Thomas wish to remain with a team that isn’t remotely close to winning much of note at any point in the foreseeable future? This could make for a unique and entertaining edition of 30 for 30.
11 The Fall of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Those who do not actively follow the National Hockey League may not know a lot about the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs, similar to the Cleveland Browns, were once one of the top franchises in the sport, a team that routinely competed for and won championships. This club was once widely respected. That must seem like a lifetime ago for diehard fans of the Leafs who have suffered and who have watched lousy team after lousy team.
What all went wrong with the Leafs? Is the team actually cursed? How close, if at all, is Toronto to turning things around? The 30 for 30 on the three professional sports clubs in Cleveland was tremendous, and it preceded the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA Championship. Maybe 30 for 30 could bring some good luck to the Leafs. Toronto fans should be willing to try just about anything these days.
10 Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco was right. Say whatever you want about comments Canseco has made in the past and/or about his activities on social media such as Twitter. Canseco was right when he spoke out about steroids in the clubhouses of Major League Baseball clubs. One could create a 30 for 30 based just on that story. Canseco has, of course, not gone silent at any point since he first touched upon that matter.
We’d like an in-depth look at what Canseco is up to these days when he isn’t Tweeting about supposedly being interested in running for office. Then again, a 30 for 30 on Canseco running for mayor of a town would write itself and it would serve as a license to print money for ESPN and for advertisers. Canseco may no longer blast baseballs over walls and out of ballparks, but he still knows how to draw attention from sports fans.
9 Brock Lesnar
All things considered, Brock Lesnar may very well be the best athlete we’ve seen over the past 16 years. Lesnar made his name in the WWE, but he then transitioned to careers in the NFL and later in the UFC. While Lesnar’s push to the tops of cards was undeserved because of his record, Lesnar did quiet his doubters by winning and then defending the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
After several years away from the UFC, Lesnar returned to the sport in July 2016 and defeated Mark Hunt at UFC 200. That victory is now tainted, however, due to Lesnar supposedly failing a drug test. The story of Lesnar’s career beginning with when he was first signed by the WWE, would make for a great 30 for 30. A producer could also choose to focus only on Lesnar’s return to the UFC and on Lesnar being accused of violating anti-doping regulations.
8 Leicester City
It is a story seemingly ripped right from a script, one that played out on pitches and before worldwide audiences. Little Leicester City completed the rise from relegation candidates all the way to the top of the Premier League table during the 2015-16 campaign and the Foxes held their grasp of the top spot in the table through May and the end of the season.
The most unlikely top-flight champions of the 21st century shocked the footballing world and Leicester now serve as inspiration for any club at any level of a football pyramid. Books will be written and movies will be made about Leicester City winning the Premier League. Why shouldn’t 30 for 30 take a crack at it? For what it’s worth, the story should not be told until a few years down the road when we know what happens with Leicester following their dream season.
7 Ryan Leaf
If you are even a casual fan of the NFL, you probably know all about the story of Ryan Leaf. He is widely regarded as one of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL and his personal life fell apart after his playing days ended. The former first-round draft pick even spent time in prison once he flopped out of the NFL. Perhaps the biggest reason we’d love to watch a 30 for 30 on Ryan Leaf is because the story seemingly has a happy ending.
Leaf is now out of jail and he has worked to get his life in order and remain clean. The hope moving forward is that Leaf has found peace and also that he could serve as a role model for other athletes like him. We have one athlete in mind, an individual who would also make for an interesting subject if somebody decided to make a 30 for 30 about his life and about his career.
6 LeBron Leaves Cleveland
So much could still be written and learned about the career of LeBron James from the summer of 2010 up through July 2014. When exactly did James know for sure that he had no intentions of remaining with the Cavaliers? Did anybody try to talk him out of it? Who, in his personal circle, thought that James going on television and announcing that he was signing with the Miami Heat was not the right way to go about things? When did James know, for sure, that he wanted to make a return to the Cavaliers?
Those questions are only the beginning for what could be a great 30 for 30 on the best basketball player of this century. It is a story made even better because James returned home and helped Cleveland win the city’s first pro sports title in nearly 52 years. James is now the Cleveland hero many thought he would be.
5 Wayne Gretzky to the Kings
The NHL Network once produced a special on the trade that sent Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. No disrespect meant to the makers of that film, but we would like to see ESPN and 30 for 30 have a shot at this tale. It remains the single biggest transaction in the history of hockey, one that changed the face of the sport and one that helped expand the popularity of the NHL.
It has been nearly 30 years since that deal was completed. Does anybody involved have any regrets so long after the fact? If Gretzky could do it all over again and pick his team, would he still go with the Kings? Would he instead demand to be traded to the Detroit Red Wings or the Vancouver Canucks? How would things in the NHL be different if Gretzky never played for the Kings or for any American team?
4 Ronda Rousey
Much has already been written on the life and career of former UFC Champion Ronda Rousey. For a 30 for 30, however, we would like a director to focus on Rousey’s career from 2015 up through current days. Was Rousey already eyeing the end of her fighting days leading up to her match against Holly Holm in November 2015? Could Rousey have better prepared for that championship fight? Would Rousey have retired as champion had she defeated Holm? Why did Rousey refuse to commit herself for a future fight date for so long?
This would make for an incredible documentary about a woman who is arguably the biggest single star signed to the UFC as of the summer of 2016. Truth be told, we still don’t know for sure that Rousey will ever fight again for the UFC. We’d love to see this 30 for 30 when the time to make it arrives.
3 2001 New York Yankees
Odds are that we will never again see a team quite like the 2001 New York Yankees due to events that took place away from the Bronx and away from baseball parks. The Yankees were the “Evil Empire” of Major League Baseball for years, but that changed in the hearts of some following the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001. New York went on a run all the way to the World Series and casual fans who previously hated the Yankees tuned in to see if New York would have something to smile about not long after lower Manhattan and the world became forever altered.
This story does not have a happy ending for New York fans, as the Yankees lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games. Nevertheless, the last month and a half of New York’s 2001 season could make for one of the best 30 for 30 films we’ve seen.
2 Paul Gascoigne
Paul Gascoigne, affectionately known as “Gazza” during his playing days, was truly one of the most gifted English footballers of his time. Unfortunately, Gascoigne is now largely known because of the personal demons that have affected him for years. Just about every time that it seems as if Gascoigne is on the verge of getting his life in order, another story about him suffering some sort of setback emerges.
Perhaps a 30 for 30 could be a final attempt to provide the assistance Gascoigne seemingly needs. It would be a shame if this 30 for 30 occurred after Gascoigne lost this battle for good. We are rooting for you, Gazza, and we hope that you will be willing and able to take part in such a project after you have turned things around. Everybody loves a good redemption story. Gascoigne needs one as badly as anybody mentioned in this piece.
1 Johnny Manziel
Some have compared former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel to Ryan Leaf because of their similar careers and because of alleged incidents that happened off of the football field. Manziel was a different Superstar all-together, a college football icon made for the social media era when highlights are available at the click of a button. “Johnny Football” was more than just a nickname.
It was seemingly a persona for Manziel during his days at Texas A&M and after he was drafted by the Browns. Just as with Gascoigne, we don’t yet know how the Manziel story will end. Manziel may never again play in the NFL. Manziel’s own father fears his son’s life may end sooner than later. Whatever happens, his saga is perfect for a 30 for 30 documentary about how quickly somebody can experience a fall from grace. Then again, maybe we haven’t seen the last of Johnny Football just yet.