In terms of the NBA calendar, four years can seem like an eternity. At this time four years ago, LeBron James had just left the Cleveland Cavaliers for a second time, the Phoenix Suns had won a grizzly 19 games (by comparison, they won the most in the entire league during the 2021 season), and a young blossoming star named Luka Doncic was just entering the league after playing his teen years overseas.
The NBA landscape changes yearly, so it is no surprise that the recently released Netflix documentary ‘The Redeem Team’ chronicles all four years that separated the squad’s historic defeat in 2004 and its return to glory in 2008. And much like how the NBA has changed between 2018 and 2022, the league was in for a changing-of-the-guard moment in international hoops.
‘The Redeem Team’ Brought Together the Best of the Best
Perhaps the best aspect working in ‘The Redeem Team’s favor is its wide net of superstars that still feel relevant and noteworthy to this day. LeBron James is still making his presence felt on the court in his historic 20th season, Dwyane Wade has transitioned to a life off the court, but still in the booth as a TV analyst, and players like Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and Jason Kidd are either still hooping at the pro level or finding a way to impact the league as a coach.
These players still feel timeless, and it gives the documentary a similar sense of timelessness knowing that modern sports medicine and science have still kept these figures in the spotlight almost 15 years after the events that took place during the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. In a way, ‘The Redeem Team’ serves as a vessel to the unfiltered and undoctored minds of some of sports’ biggest stars throughout the 2010s.
The Signature Star of the 2008 Team was Kobe Bryant
And then there’s Kobe Bryant, who looms over the majority of this documentary the same way he loomed over the NBA since his arrival in the 90s. There are many stories and pieces about the lore of Kobe Bryant that have been told and written about before and after his untimely death in 2020, but there aren’t many that are co-authored and commented on by the NBA great himself.
In the NBA sphere, Kobe was always an enigma – a head-down, stubborn, win-at-all-costs player that wasn’t afraid to make enemies and rub even his own teammates the wrong way. There was a killer instinct about the Black Mamba, one that stuck with him and drew comparisons to the likes of Michael Jordan quickly after his arrival on the scene. This was always noted by analysts and talking heads, but it was rarely put as bluntly as it is in ‘The Redeem Team’ (specifically LeBron realizing “we are about to kick the shit out of Spain” after Kobe runs through his Lakers teammate Pau Gasol during the opening moments of their first bout against the Spanish National Team).
The documentary flows effortlessly once Kobe enters the picture after the coaching staff realizes they need some mental fortitude and veteran leadership in order to tame the young guns. It essentially shifts from being about the redemption arc for a country that has dominated its sport for the better part of a century into a reflection on the mentality and dedication that Kobe Bryant had towards his craft regardless of the situation or circumstances he was in. I cackled at Carmelo Anthony realizing Kobe skipped going to the club so he could hit the gym the next morning at 3 A.M., only to see a few moments later that that work ethic was contagious towards the entire team. Only a few days later, the entire team was hitting the weight room at dawn before their first practices started.
‘The Redeem Team’ Works as a Secret Kobe Bryant Tribute Piece
In a way, ‘The Redeem Team’ is the faux-Kobe Bryant legacy piece that was surely going to come at some point after his death. It hits on every legacy-building beat that was known about the player and person, but this time it’s delivered by his peers and the players that grew up idolizing him. Kobe bridged the era between the “golden age” 90s and the new school, three-point-heavy philosophy, so ‘The Redeem Team’ does an excellent job at playing on the nostalgia while also looking ahead to a league flooding with young, international talent.
‘The Redeem Team’ also pairs Kobe with another basketball icon that has walked away recently, the legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. The doc sets the table for why a college coach could possibly be up for the challenge of coaching millionaire basketball savants with a brief, yet effective, look at Krzyzewski’s (Coach K’s) time serving in the military and coaching Army basketball. Coach K personified winning, so if any coach was going to be able to bring a collective of talent like this together, he was going to be the one.
‘The Redeem Team’ is a Gift for Basketball Fans Everywhere
In its entirety, ‘The Redeem Team’ is a highly effective basketball documentary for fans of the NBA and international basketball. It pulls together the same emotions that similar sports dramas have been able to in the past (not unlike Adam Sandler’s Netflix drama ‘Hustle’ this year), but with recognizable and larger-than-life global superstars. For a documentary to have this many mouths to feed and also pay homage to two of the sport’s greatest proponents is a major feat, and one rarely accomplished in the sports documentary world.
It has a few shortcomings, but ones that don’t detract too much from the overall enjoyment level of witnessing more of the Kobe Bryant experience. For starters, it does morph into the general style of Netflix documentary work that has been put on display for years now. Its highly dramatic, formulaic score feels like it could’ve been pulled from any of the streaming service’s previous documentary offerings hoping no one would notice. It also feels nearly too glossy when cutting back-and-forth between recent interviews and game footage from the 2008 games.
Simply put, it doesn’t quite break open the mold for Netflix’s documentary style and form, but its substance is good enough to overcome that small gripe. It is absolutely worth checking out for the Kobe Bryant and LeBron James banter alone, because who knows how much more content we may get like that about the Black Mamba.