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Why ‘Legacy’ Lakers documentary (and other recent sports docs) isn’t landing with people

There are inherent issues with the subject having final say in documentaries. “Legacy: The True Story About The Los Angeles Lakers” is no different from others that haven’t resonated.

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LeBron James And The Los Angeles Lakers Media Day Photo by Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

Collectively, we have to find some new word to describe these new documentaries that are told through the prism of the project’s subject. Once the main character gets final say over the direction of how they are covered, it ceases to be a documentary and becomes more a commercial.

Once “The Last Dance” had its own resounding success (born mostly of there being no live sports in the middle of the pandemic), you knew others like it would start popping up — all with the same core issue. Don’t get me wrong, parts of “The Last Dance” were certainly entertaining, but it was all very clearly told through Michael Jordan’s eyes, with very little new information about him.

“Legacy: The True Story About The Los Angeles Lakers” is no different from “Captain,” Derek Jeter’s doc, or “Man in The Arena,” which focused on Tom Brady. Sure, because we love sports, there are aspects that fun to relive, but for the most part, I could get just as much watching highlights of these main characters on YouTube.

Don’t just take my word for it, either. The reviews on “Legacy” have mostly been shrugged shoulders and acknowledgment that this thing exists.

Here’s a little-discussed secret and, in my opinion, explanation for why these projects haven’t resonated: The subjects who are now redlining the docs don’t always know what’s most interesting about themselves. And, in fairness to Jeter, Brady, the Lakers, and anyone else whose doc is going to fall flat, why would they? Documentary making isn’t their expertise. That’s a completely different set of muscles.

No, the most enlightening and, by extension, entertaining documentaries that sit with viewers beyond the time they’re watching are those where a skilled documentarian who knows what will land with the audience gets the opportunity to tell the full story from all its angles — warts and all.

It’s the warts that make the triumphs worth caring about, after all.

The Showtime Lakers were a cultural phenomenon unto themselves. Yes, the basketball was why people knew who they were, but their societal impact extended well beyond those fast breaks and no-look passes. If all that mattered was just the basketball, then the Celtics would’ve made a similar imprint on society around them, but they didn’t. Why not?

And more importantly, why has this documentary barely even broached the subject?

Look, there is still some time left for Antoine Fuqua to tell a more interesting story than the one he has presented thus far, and maybe as we get further into the story, its subjects might be more interested in opening up. But to this point (two full hours in), there really isn’t much we’ve learned about one of American sports’ most fascinating eras that we couldn’t have otherwise seen in a three-minute highlight reel.

This week on “The Hook,” I spoke to Aaron Larsuel about this doc and other projects like it. Funny enough, even knowing it’ll be yet another commercial, I can’t wait for one in particular. We also discuss the Lakers’ impatience getting in the way of finding its next generational superstar and how Michael Jordan could’ve been one such icon in forum blue and gold.

You can listen to the full episode below, and to make sure you never miss a show, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.

And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.