Last month, Netflix released their highly anticipated (within the basketball community, at least) documentary The Redeem Team, which follows the USA basketball team from their embarrassing collapse at the 2004 Olympics through their subsequent rebuild and success four years later in Beijing. The documentary was made by the same filmmakers behind The Last Dance, Netflix’s critically acclaimed and wildly popular sports docuseries that followed Michael Jordan’s journey toward six championships with the Chicago Bulls, and similarly relies on firsthand footage, film from games, and extensive interviews with athletes and analysts.
Nearly a month after its release, The Redeem Team has not matched the explosive success of The Last Dance, and it has distinct differences from its predecessor. It is a movie-length piece rather than a series and features two main characters instead of one. Nevertheless, it is still able to captivate viewers and give them a behind-the-scenes look at a historically great team.
The Redeem Team begins by showing viewers the humiliating bronze medal run of the 2004 USA basketball team, with a focus on young players, including Lebron James, who received most of the negative publicity for the team’s performance. Viewers are immediately exposed to the stakes of the game and introduced to one of the film’s two main protagonists: a young Lebron looking to prove himself.
After the film’s intro, The Redeem Team starts to shine and positively differentiate itself from The Last Dance through various micronarratives and the introduction of a second main character. The first micronarrative the film explores shines a light on the unknown architect behind USA basketball’s redemption: Jerry Colangelo. Colangelo’s story builds out many of the documentary’s main characters including Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski—known to many as Coach K—who Colangelo pressed to lead the team. Previously unseen footage of Coach K’s team talks and practices allows viewers to see how he commanded his team, reminding the athletes that they should have pride in representing USA basketball.
The main problem facing Coach K was uniting various NBA stars on one team, so it comes as a shock when he brings in historical lone wolf Kobe Bryant. The effect of Coach K’s move is seen from the very first practice, where Kobe plays defense and dives for loose balls when no other USA team player is trying. This immediately pushes the team and documentary into gear as viewers begin to see Kobe’s infamous “mamba mentality” in action. Viewers see Kobe go to the gym at 4:30 every morning which pushes the younger players to follow suit, as well as the most popular clip from the show, where Kobe runs over his Lakers teammate in a game to set the tone for his teammates.
The relationship between Lebron and Kobe also comes to the forefront of the documentary, spotlighting how players who were considered “divas” came together as teammates and friends to achieve success. In framing the documentary around these two central basketball figures, The Redeem Team feels very different from the Jordan-focused Last Dance in a way that makes the story much more nuanced.
If you’re looking for another The Last Dance, The Redeem Team will satisfy your quench for unseen team talks, videos of practices, and interviews with basketball greats, but don’t expect the same single-character tunnel vision. As a viewer, you’ll be forced to do exactly what members of the redeem team had to do: appreciate each member of the ensemble for their contributions towards greatness.