Netflix has become a home for top-notch sports documentaries

 
Netflix has become a home for top-notch sports documentaries

Netflix has become a home for top-notch sports documentaries

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Netflix has become a home for top-notch sports documentaries, and this week brings the streaming service one of its most prestigious, a two-part film from Sam Pollard, the brilliant director behind “MLK/FBI” and co-director of “Mr. Soul!" The historian turns his eye to one of the most important sports figures of the 20th century, a man who changed the game of basketball forever and created a dominant winning culture in Boston that still gives the Celtics legendary status. Bill Russell is often considered on the Mount Rushmore of NBA players, but “Bill Russell: Legend” also celebrates his importance as a civil rights icon. The two-part film details the racism he faced even as he was winning championships and how important equality was to the man who stood alongside Muhammad Ali as he protested the war and aligned with Colin Kaepernick when he took a knee. "Bill Russell: Legend" runs almost 200 minutes in total, which can be a lot for non-fans, but it feels like Pollard knew that one feature-length doc wouldn’t be enough for a man who was as big as Bill Russell, and I don’t just mean his height.

Pollard knows how to assemble a project like “Bill Russell: Legend,” seamlessly flowing from how Russell performed on the court to stories of his life off of it with passages from his memoirs read by Jeffrey Wright. (The entire project is also narrated by Corey Stoll.) Russell, who passed just last year, became an outspoken activist over his life, but it’s startling how groundbreaking he was for a sport that was still almost entirely white when he transformed it. I was fascinated by stories of a young Russell trying to memorize Michelangelo paintings in library books and then recreating them when he got home, as his gameplay revealed an obsession with body angles. He knew where someone was going with the ball before they did because of what his opponent’s body told him. Pollard’s film includes a ton of archival game footage, and it’s stunning to see Russell look like he's playing a different game than everyone around him.

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