The is an emblematic figure of American life in 2008 that Barack Obama, one we have been waiting for, a hinge between eras, a basketball fan who taught America to say “yes” at the end of an awful, stupid decade “no”. But that is the alienness of the world only 15 years ago that did not feel strange that Obama did not mention and did not appear on the screen. Team Redeema thrilling new Netflix documentary about the United States’ recovery of its rightful gold medal in men’s basketball in Beijing that year.
There’s a lot of psycho-political baggage the filmmaker could pile on the Mike Krzyzewski-coached victory. The Larry Brown-led US team captained by Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan limped to the bronze medal in Athens in 2004, a national disgrace that occurred at the nadir of the Bush administration’s Iraq debacle. War and basketball are two things in which Americans imagine themselves as undisputed global leaders, but Argentina’s national team and a coalition of jihadist lunatics have cast doubt on the cherished myth of American superiority. Communist China, host of the 2008 summer Games, points the way forward in a world shaped by America’s rapid decline – but Obama, and perhaps Team USA’s alpha dogs Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, show that decline is not inevitable, that America is still dynamic enough to improve through his failures.
Director Jon Weinbach doesn’t deal with any of that stuff, at least not right away. The broader dimension of the story he tells emerges naturally through the film’s tight focus on basketball. The movie never came out and said it, but the 1992 Dream Team, the first U.S. Olympic squad that included NBA players, helped inaugurate a seemingly endless history of American hegemony, a time of our full-spectrum dominance over the rest of the world. a glorious inevitability. Maybe that mindset isn’t healthy, one said. “We came to the notion that just because we’re American, we’re better,” said journalist Sam Smith, introducing a montage of NBA stars in red, white, and blue jerseys that replaced the world’s smaller nations throughout the 1990s. But the assumption is true – Is True. True? If it weren’t for the unmistakable connection between America and basketball excellence, the 2008 team wouldn’t have redeemed much of anything. But, as Smith rightly stated, “The Dream Team isn’t about patriotism. They’re not really doing it for America. They’re doing it for the NBA” — for the money, basically. The film keeps the politics to a minimum, but remains a story about how our national purpose can become clearer, sharper, and less cynical in times of our loss.
In showing how Americans became champions again, Team Redeem becomes an unexpected double portrait of perhaps two of the preeminent basketball titans of the 21st century. One of them, Mike Krzyzewski, coached his last game earlier this year. Another, Kobe Bryant, died with his young daughter in a helicopter crash in January 2020, an event that a large part of the older millennial demographic experienced as a “Day the Music Died”-type reality-bender, a spectacular end to all the final delusions of youth. This film represents the height of a new era yet it has also ended.
After the Athens disaster, USA Basketball was under one-man control of the former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who made the same risky decision to choose a college coach to guide the NBA’s star team. At no time did Duke University captain Krzyzewski, a middle-aged West Point graduate and winner of three national championships, seem the least bit compared to Dwyane, LeBron, Kobe, or the one-name multimillionaires under his charge. In team meetings, Coach K remains calm, if somewhat monotone — he’s “a coach from the Army,” as sportswriter Bill Plaschke describes it.
In the name of ultimate victory, Krzyzewski persuades a collection of showboats with athletic shoes named after them to adopt the high pick-and-roll style of the international game. He came up with a basketball theory that could double as America’s own theory. Don’t let your own NBA-sized ego get in the way, he said at one team meeting. “You have to give me the ego you have… and put it under one ego umbrella.” “That makes sense!” Dwyane Wade exclaims, remembering the moment 15 years later. As if to highlight the psychic connection between America’s basketball dominance and our deeper self-conceptions, Coach K had the team learn about “selfless service” from an Army colonel recently returned from Iraq, and an active duty soldier who had both eyes blown out. by enemy shrapnel. “Hearing this story, our players let their hearts open, and as a result, they became USA,” Krzyzewski said today.
in Team Redeem, Krzyzewski’s genius is something the mind can grasp: He combines a savant-like understanding of human psychology with a grandiose conception of the task at hand. Unlike Coach K, Kobe’s greatness is in the sublime realm. In the film, he is remembered as a self-possessed, god who mocks mortals – “mortals,” in this case, that is Pau Gasol, Dwyane Wade, and even LeBron James – from the top of all existence, place. where only he belonged. Kobe has no friends, is “comfortable” alone, according to Carmelo Anthony. Superstars just look casual with him: One night, during the Las Vegas training camp, all the rest of the team came back from a night of clubbing at 5:30 in the morning to find Kobe in the lobby of their hotel, drenched in sweat from one. exercise in the morning. By the end of the week, clubbing has ceased, and the whole squad was on the schedule of Laker’s guard.
It would be a disservice to give away every great Kobe anecdote in this movie. We get the full background of the notorious body check he kept on Lakers teammate Gasol during the opening minutes of an Olympic round-robin game against Spain, the still-stunning behavior of a truly pathological champion. That “pathological victory” is an American value is one of the unspoken assumptions of this film. Ironically, this insatiable will to succeed is part of why Americans are sometimes loved abroad. The documentary depicts how in Beijing, the Chinese public treated Kobe as if he were Michael Jackson or Princess Diana, with possibly thousands of screaming and fainting people following him through the Chinese capital.
At that time, the crowd mobbing the Team USA bus looked like reassuring evidence that the Chinese people were in thrall to the liberalizing influence of American culture. In retrospect, the power dynamic is almost the opposite – LeBron James, now America’s chief celebrity apologist for Beijing’s misdeeds, must have seen Kobemania as a glimpse of his own commercial prospects in a basketball-mad Communist dictatorship. (One surprising omission in this film is that there is no mention of the USA’s blowout of the host country, China, in the preliminary round of the Olympic tournament, which, at the time, is believed to have had the largest television audience of any sporting event in history. LeBron James is one of the film’s executive producers, by the way.)
Team Redeem is satisfying to look back at a great national victory, but even historic sports achievements become bittersweet in time – and in less time than one could have expected or expected. The film ends with Dwyane and Kobe icing a series of outlandishly angled long jump shots to stave off Spain’s late comeback in the gold medal game. Every basketball fan knows that happens. Do they remember a time when it seemed like the NBA would have a bigger impact on China than China would have on the NBA? For that matter, do they remember that Carmelo Anthony was a babyface as a junior in 2004, or even 2008? Team Redeem is a record number of gold medals won in the worlds near – and for many viewers, it will be disturbing proof that we are not young anymore.
Armin Rosen is a New York-based reporter at large for Tablet.