On Friday, Netflix dropped a 90-minute documentary called “The Redeem Team.” The story focuses on the 2008 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team that won gold in Beijing, but also on the moments of love, pain and heartbreak that occurred along the journey Team USA took to reclaim the basketball court at the international level.
Some historical background is needed to understand the story. In 1992, professional athletes were allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time. The American basketball squad, nicknamed the “Dream Team,” crushed the competition, ending with a gold medal.
In the intervening years, however, international competition stepped up, with other national teams gaining more talent and creating a more competitive circuit. The U.S. began losing badly.
The Olympic squad was given the nickname “Redeem Team” after the 2004 U.S. team only came home with bronze, even with some of the best players in the world. In 2005, a year after the loss, USA Basketball underwent a rebranding process.
There was a new managing director, former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, and a new coach, Duke’s legendary “Coach K” — Mike Krzyzewski. They were able to bring in Kobe Bryant for his first Olympics, along with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony were all players on the losing team the year prior, but the trio returned for the next season of international competition. The rest of the squad included Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Jason Kidd, Michael Redd, Chris Bosh and Tayshaun Prince.
The team’s foundation of trust and motivation is credited to “Coach K’s” pep talks and his plans on how to compete. One special moment is when “Coach K” gave the players the backstory of what happened with Doug Collins and Team USA in the 1972 Olympics in Munich and had Collins speak to the team directly. By the end of the film, there is a full circle moment as Team USA players pay homage to Collins when they win gold.
James provides most of the narration, and much of the footage shows him training and pushing to do better. Wade is underestimated while on the team but then becomes the unsung hero in their biggest game. However, it is Bryant who carries his team through the tournament and who is the film’s biggest focal point aside from the team itself and “Coach K.”
When the film starts, there is an old clip of Bryant, which sets the tone for the documentary with his answer to the question, “and in what ways would that differ from perhaps winning an NBA championship?”
Bryant’s response is that restoring national pride took precedence over everything else and that he sensed even Celtics fans wearing Kevin Garnett jerseys could put their allegiance aside to root for him, a Hall of Fame Laker.
The film highlights Bryant’s work ethic and focus. His whatever-it-takes attitude, both in practice sessions and in actual competition, shines through the clips the film provides.
Bryant transitions from his standoffish and selfish characteristics that have been highlighted in his career and switches into a funny and supportive teammate and leader. He set an example through actions rather than words.
He trains when others on the team go to parties, then gets the entire team to do the same, and shows his loyalty to his team the moment he decks Pau Gasol on the first play when the U.S. plays Spain. Gasol was a Lakers teammate he really liked and admired, but during the Olympics, he was the enemy.
Although the documentary never mentions Bryant’s death, it is alluded to in some moments. It is also seen through the emotions of the players when they talk about Bryant’s impact on the “Redeem Team” and their own personal lives.
Anyone even mildly interested in basketball or team building will enjoy the film. Even non-basketball fans can enjoy the storyline of these superstar mega personalities all coming together as one for a goal. All viewers can connect to the emotion of the journey these players have to go through, and it is overall a great documentary.
Photo courtesy of kris krüg, Wikipedia.