In 1996 the NBA turned 50 years old. The NBA logo on every team’s jersey that season (’96-’97) was gold rather than the customary red, white and blue and at the 1997 All-Star weekend in Cleveland the league honored the “50 Greatest Players”. The league also released a film commemorating the golden anniversary; here is a review of that film.
When I was a kid I had this film on VHS. I now own it on DVD and was so happy to be reminded, as I popped it into my DVD player, that Denzel Washington was the host. The film opens with Denzel talking to us from the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City. Washington gives us a brief intro then we hear from our narrator, Will Lyman, for the first time. The first segment is on the early days of the game with George Mikan featuring prominently. It was pretty cool to see interviews with these old men who paved the way for today’s stars.
For fear of boredom the film goes back to Denzel and he uses Johnny “Red” Kerr to tie things back to the Bulls and highlights of Michael Jordan and the Dream Team. It is a bit random but I’m sure casual fans appreciate the idea behind it. We then move on to a long bit about Bill Russell and the 1960’s Boston Celtics. This film was shot three years before Wilt Chamberlain died so getting to see interviews from him was really cool. This segment obviously comments on Wilt but we also get some good stuff on other stars of the day like Oscar Robertson and Jerry West.
From there we move on to a segment hosted by Chuck Daly where he takes us through parts about the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers, the mid-1990’s Houston Rockets and the early 1970’s New York Knicks. Kind of an odd transition but the segment was pretty solid. After that we move into a bit about street basketball that features Spike Lee talking to us from an NYC playground. From there we move on to the 70’s and a piece profiling Julius Erving. The Dr. J clips are fantastic. After that we see a small segment on the low point of the late 70’s before talking about one of the most important moments in league history, the 1979-80 season and the rookie years of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
The Bird and Magic section is probably the longest of the film, and rightfully so as their incredible runs in the 1980’s is the reason the NBA became what it is today. After that we get a Denzel walk and talk as he explains to us the pressure of clutch situations then introduces the bit about the Bad Boy Pistons. After that we get to the 90’s and a portion about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The last 30 minutes of the film include Lyman (narrator) taking us through all 50 of the greatest players. We finish with chronological highlights as a Vanessa Williams song is played. The ending is a bit overly sentimental but still good. Overall this is an awesome couple of hours down memory lane. If you are a casual fan you will learn a ton and if you are a diehard you will see some interviews and highlights that you may have never seen before; also, Denzel Washington.