"The Last Dance", that 10-part series about Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls that captured our collective attention for five consecutive Mondays, was a ratings bonanza for ESPN in the United States and brought the sports documentary as a storytelling piece back to forefront.
That got us asking ourselves, What Philippine sports team, athlete or event would make a good subject matter for a similar documentary? We polled our ESPN5.com writers and here are the answers we got.
JC Ansis: In the '90s, I rooted for the Alaska Aces as much as everyone rooted for Jordan and the Bulls. As a huge fan of Johnny Abarrientos, I was thrilled when he was named MVP in 1996, the same year they won the Grand Slam. It'd be nice to revisit that season -- maybe have a quick lookback at the previous times a Grand Slam was won, how that '96 team was assembled and how Tim Cone was nearly fired for implementing the triangle offense. Listening to stories from Jojo Lastimosa alone is already entertaining, but adding interviews of Jeffrey Cariaso, Bong Hawkins and some of the stars they beat in each of the finals (Patrimonio, Paras, Jaworski) would make it more enjoyable.
You know what would be another compelling watch? An in-depth and detailed narrative on how close Abarrientos came to making the NBA. One of the biggest what-ifs.
Chuck Araneta: Without question, a documentary chronicling Gilas Pilipinas' journey to the 2014 World Cup in Spain. It would even work "Last Dance"-style where you could go back and forth with all the agonizing moments of the Philippines against South Korea, culminating to the victory at MOA Arena in 2013.
We'd have in-depth stories of each of the players of Gilas Pilipinas that made up the roster, and how we got to the point where we were elevated to the biggest stage of basketball in the world. I'm getting chills just thinking about it.
Charlie Cuna: The 1986-87 Tanduay Rhum Makers. I was an avid Tanduay (the Elizalde PBA pioneer franchise) fan as a young boy, but Tanduay's record, save for a couple of runner-up finishes, was usually far from stellar. Many times, the team finished near the bottom. That changed in 1986.
With a formidable local lineup led by league MVPs Mon Fernandez and Freddie Hubalde, and exceptional imports like Rob Williams and David Thirdkill, the team won three of the six championships at stake, the only ones in franchise history. The franchise abruptly folded at the end of the 1987 season, but at least it tasted championship glory not once, but thrice, just before it bid the league adieu forever.
Paolo Del Rosario: The 2010 Suzuki Cup Philippine Azkals is an underrated story. It is common knowledge that they were underdogs, but the details of what they went through aren't talked about enough. The team was composed of part-time footballers, they had the youngest coach of a national football team in the world, and featured the beginnings of the policy of scouring the world for players with Filipino heritage.
The Azkals' campaign also featured a 'food poisoning game' (Phil Younghusband vs. Vietnam), snubbed handshakes (Simon Mcmenemy and Henrique Calisto), and borderline disrespectful quotes (Singapore coach Raddy Avramovic implied scoring a lot against the Philippines to boost their goal difference).
Sure, it didn't end up in a championship, but rarely has a national team affected the state of their sport in the country overnight.
Charmie Lising: The dynasty that coach Ramil de Jesus built in La Salle for over two decades would be interesting to explore. Players and fans can learn a lot from how one of the greatest Philippine volleyball coaches adapted to the times and remained competitive as different generations of DLSU stars came and went through the years.
Carlo Pamintuan: Michael Jordan was both the most popular player in the NBA and the best in history. In the PBA, it's a little different. While there will be discussions on whether June Mar Fajardo or Ramon Fernandez is the GOAT, Robert Jaworski is untouchable in the discussion on who is the most popular.
I would totally watch a 10-part documentary on the Jawo magic centered on his Barangay Ginebra team of the 1990s and how he turned into The Living Legend. All of those involved with the PBA have their own Jaworski stories and the older generation of Ginebra fans surely have great memories and it would have been nice to put everything together.
I'm hoping that "The Last Dance" gives us all the realization that documentaries are worth investing in. The payout may not be automatic, but we cannot allow so many great moments to go undocumented.
Yoyo Sarmenta: The Metropolitan Basketball Association would be worth revisiting for a documentary. A lot of PBA players and coaches (and even media personalities) trace their roots to the MBA.
Its brief existence was full of inspiring athlete stories from different provinces. It stirred fan interest with the use of the home-and-away format, unique team monikers, and even outrageous rules just to shake up the game. The MBA was not without controversy and mishaps - which are key elements in any documentary. It dared to rival the PBA and a race for top talent ensued. Its sudden rise and downfall are worth studying and learning from for all current and future sports leagues.
Jutt Sulit: My early memories of watching the PBA date back to the late '90s and early 2000s. Whenever there was a San Miguel versus Alaska matchup, no one at home could force me away from the television. It was the PBA rivalry (if you can even call it that) I grew up with. But if I were to watch a "The Last Dance"-type of documentary on a PBA rivalry, I would love for it to be about Crispa versus Toyota.
What made "The Last Dance" extra special to me was that I was either too young or not even born yet in most of the timelines tackled. The only clear memories were the last two championships of the Bulls against the Jazz. That's also why I choose Crispa-Toyota. I always hear stories of brawls and kerfuffle between the two teams but that was that. I hear how much they hated each other. For someone who wasn't born yet when all those happened, a documentary on that rivalry would surely allow me to understand and appreciate two of the teams that paved the way for what the PBA is today.
Sid Ventura: My closest friends might find this surprising coming from me, since I was a diehard Toyota fan back in the day, but a documentary about the fabled Crispa Redmanizers - with emphasis on their 1983 Grand Slam season - needs to be done.
That team was special, and we'll never see a starting five like this again: three former league MVPs, that season's MVP, and a Hall-of-Famer. As if that weren't enough, they would later be joined by the most unstoppable PBA import of all time. They won 21 straight games - a record that stands to this day - on their way to the franchise's second Grand Slam. They have a legitimate claim to the title Greatest Team in PBA History. They knew they were good, and they let other teams know.
What's been largely overlooked over the years is the fact that Crispa entered that season with a new coach, having fired the beloved and iconic Baby Dalupan after a title-less 1982 campaign. That's like the Bulls giving Phil Jackson the pink slip prior to their second three-peat. I want to know how the players reacted to that, given their reverence for the Maestro. I want answers to other questions as well: who was the alpha dog on this team of MVPs? Who was the glue guy? Was there ever any jealousy? How hard did Billy Ray Bates really party, considering he averaged close to 60 points per game (seriously, Bates deserves his own episode, maybe even two)?
Some answers can be found in Rafe Bartholomew's seminal book "Pacific Rims", which is still the recognized authority on PBA and Philippine basketball history, but it would be nice to watch and listen to the players tell the story.
Noel Zarate: The 1986 UP Maroons would be an interesting topic for a documentary, starting with a portion on the years of struggle the Maroons endured since their lone championship in 1940, the near-misses, and how a young and raw Benjie Paras changed everything for the Maroons in his freshman year.
It could also look into the coaching style of Joe Lipa, the harmony then between young Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano as well as the support crew that helped UP defeat the mighty UE Red Warriors. We could also get anecdotes from the players who suited up in the Lipa seasons just before the '86 title, guys like Yeng Guiao and Raymond Celis.