Chicago sports documentaries are hot; here are some ideas for more
“The Last Dance” was a smashing success, and “Long Gone Summer” will air June 14. How about docs on the spring of 1992, saving the Sox and unique Bulls and Cubs streaks?
So what did you watch last Sunday night?
It was our first Sunday night since April 12 without a new episode of “The Last Dance,” the documentary series on ESPN. Maybe you clicked on the channel out of habit and gave the Lance Armstrong documentary a try, only to check out after realizing he’s still a loathsome creature.
Whatever you watched, it couldn’t have provided the same experience as reliving the days of Michael Jordan and the 1990s Bulls. We probably (hopefully, really) won’t live through anything like that again. The series was a beacon during a time of emptiness in the sports world.
On June 14, for one night only, we’ll experience something similar with the premiere of “Long Gone Summer,” ESPN’s documentary on the 1998 home-run race between the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa and the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire.
It’s the second Chicago-centric doc to air during the coronavirus pandemic, and it got me thinking: What other topics with local appeal might pique interest for a potential documentary? So I put my mind to work for once and came up with some ideas, both serious and silly.
Given the state of things, maybe you’ll eventually watch one of them on a Sunday night.
‘Two for ’92’
It might be the most overlooked time in Chicago sports history. On June 1, 1992, the Blackhawks hosted Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Two days later, the Bulls hosted Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Though the Hawks couldn’t hold up their end to have both series going at the same time (they got swept by the Penguins in four games), the teams were in position to make Chicago the home of the first NBA-NHL double championship.
NBA and NHL teams who share an arena have reached their league finals in the same season eight times. It’s nine if you widen the scope to teams sharing a market after the Warriors and Sharks went the distance in 2016. A pair has never hit the double.
I don’t recall a lot of buzz about the possibility in Chicago, probably because the Bulls cast a planet-sized shadow over the Hawks, who wouldn’t even show sold-out postseason games on cable. Those games aired on HawkVision, the team’s pay-per-view service. Meanwhile, every Bulls game was either on cable or NBC.
Still, the Hawks roared through the conference playoffs, winning 11 in a row. The Bulls were seeking back-to-back titles, which they achieved by downing the Trail Blazers. And Chicago Stadium was raucous seemingly every other night. It’s a time that deserves a look back.
‘Saving the Sox’
I wonder how many younger White Sox fans know how close the team came to becoming the Florida White Sox. It’s not a pleasant time in the team’s 120-year history, but the drama that unfolded on June 30, 1988, would match that of any prime-time show.
Chicago was within minutes of becoming a one-horse baseball town, but then-Gov. Jim Thompson rallied to secure the votes for a new stadium on the South Side, then called new Comiskey Park, now called Guaranteed Rate Field. It left Floridians crushed and their new Florida Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg without a tenant — until 1998, when the expansion Devil Rays arrived.
The documentary could chronicle the demise of old Comiskey Park, the oldest ballpark in the majors when it closed in 1990, as well as the rise of the new park, the first of its generation. In between would be a story of Illinois politics at its best — or worst, given your point of view.
In April 2018, MLB Network “honored” the 1988 Orioles to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their major-league-worst 0-21 start. The 15-minute video was titled “The Other Streak,” a playful correlation with Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken’s ironman streak of 2,632 consecutive games.
So why not honor the owners of the worst start in National League history? The 1997 Cubs began 0-14 before beating the Mets in the second game of a doubleheader. They were outscored 78-36 and were shut out three times. The finish to the previous season might have been a clue as to what was ahead. The Cubs were 74-72 and five games out of first but went 2-14 the rest of the way.
The ’97 season was Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg’s last as a player, and it was fan favorite Shawon Dunston’s last with the Cubs. But it also set the stage for a miraculous 1998, when Kerry Wood and Sosa took the baseball world by storm and the Cubs won the NL wild card. It was a transformative time worthy of even more than a 15-minute spot.
‘The TNT Bulls’
In one of the quirkiest and perhaps most meaningless streaks in NBA history, the Bulls have won 20 consecutive home games broadcast on TNT. Surely, the network could piggyback off “The Last Dance” with “The Longest Dance,” showcasing a streak that dates to Feb. 28, 2013.
Granted, the streak hasn’t been put to the test since March 30, 2017, when the Bulls beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers. But they have beaten James four times during the streak, including once when he was with the Heat. They’ve even beaten the best in the West, such as the Warriors and Spurs (twice).
The Bulls haven’t warranted a TNT home game in the last three seasons. Hence, the streak has life. But the mystifying nature of the streak, as well as some of the games, warrants a documentary. TNT even could include the popular “Inside the NBA” crew. It’d be another great trip down Bulls memory lane.