Bill Walton 30 for 30 series The Luckiest Guy in the World by Steve James
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Tv Bill Walton gets heartfelt and inspiring ’30 for 30′ series courtesy of Steve James

Bill Walton gets heartfelt and inspiring ’30 for 30′ series courtesy of Steve James

Bill Walton 30 for 30 series The Luckiest Guy in the World by Steve James

The first time Bill Walton says “I’m the luckiest boy alive,” he’s sitting by a river in his home state of Oregon, wearing a kaleidoscopic tie-dye shirt and grinning ear to ear . Aside from the short video that precedes his oft-repeated catchphrase—a montage alluding to the disastrous injuries Walton sustained as a professional basketball player and the controversy he stirred up as a Vietnam War protester—it’s easy to believe him. He’s so happy that he’s beaming, and he’s worn that smile so consistently throughout his five decades in the public eye, is what first comes to mind when you picture the NCAA legend, NBA star and the favorite of the broadcast. He’s just a happy boy. With all that he’s accomplished, why shouldn’t he count himself lucky too?

Director Steve James, who is often behind the camera when Walton is the center of attention, repeatedly returns to the statement during the eponymous four-part documentary series “30 for 30”. He opens the second episode by questioning the line, after Walton says it again, and flashes back during the final moments. “Why?” is not a simple question to answer. It’s not to reinforce the obvious: that Walton has been lucky in parts of his life and that he certainly sees himself that way. Nor is it to argue the other way around: that for every height he has reached, there has been a low point to equal it, if not go even lower.

It’s both reasons, really. James builds his docuseries around the phrase because there are at least two sides to every story, and Walton’s could easily be framed as either a positive inspiration or a series of disastrous events that kept a star from reaching her full potential. . That “The Luckiest Guy in the World” honors both perspectives – and forces Walton to consider the pessimistic viewpoint – is as much a testament to its resiliently cheerful subject matter as its deftly curious director. Having seldom given Walton a second thought in my lifetime, I was moved by this four-part series – in a way that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s market for athlete-backed hagiographies documentaries, and therefore worth recognizing while we can.

In its broad structure, the series follows a chronological path through Walton’s life, although James is smart about recognizing when to jump forward. Episode 2 spends a lot of time highlighting Walton’s glory days at UCLA, when he and the legendary NCAA team were nearly unstoppable. Game footage is thrilling, and old teammates and competitors frame the Bruins’ title races in compelling language. But James also steps forward to see Walton walking the grounds in the present day. He watches him remember those games and pushes him to reevaluate the past with new eyes.

John Wooden is a key example. The Westwood wizard won 10 NCAA titles in 12 seasons and is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. He created the pyramid of success, which is used today in and out of basketball, and Walton is ready to sing the man’s praises. “He used to pick me up and get me out of jail,” Walton says, speaking of his protests on campus. But he also refused to sign a letter Walton wrote denouncing the Vietnam War—a letter that only existed because Wooden told his star center to write something instead of march.

Here, James presses Walton to discuss his political views, and the big man argues, “I’ve always been mainstream.” When James says he’s not sure if that’s true, Walton gleefully quips, “It depends on what stream you’re in.” Scenes like this one—in which Walton remains steadfast in his perspective while conceding another point of view—help create more controversial moments later, when Walton begins to push back. “You always try to get me to explain,” he says for the past hour—and yes, of course he is; this is James’ job as a documentarian.

But it’s also his job to listen to what his subject is saying to him. Discussing Walton’s career-ending injuries, when he would be paid during his recovery period, James says, “They’re paying you even if you can’t play, which isn’t a bad deal.” Walton replies, “It’s the worst deal ever.” Why? “Because I want to play.” He doesn’t stop there. It is evident in that moment, as Walton recalls those long years of not knowing if his foot would heal, if he would ever play in the NBA again, and even if he would ever walk again, that similar comments stuck with him at the time. . . He is visibly upset and finally tells James, “Don’t try to tell me it’s a good deal,” as he expresses his passion for the game and his team. His feelings are similar to what we heard and saw during the UCLA segment, but instead of seeming redundant, they reveal the other side of the coin. Whereas before, when times were good, he can talk about his love of the game in euphoric reveries. Now, remembering when things went wrong, his love of the game is transmitted through pain and sensitivity.

“Don’t tell me it’s a good deal,” Walton repeats, when he has said his piece. And James apologizes.

“The Luckiest Guy in the World” has all the game highlights and career accolades basketball fans would expect. James, after all, has an affinity for sports. But what sets it apart from other sports documentaries by a subject is the director’s ability to see Walton better than he can see himself. James can honor Walton’s intentions without shying away from what makes him uncomfortable, and he can craft a story about both in a way that leaves audiences satisfied and exhilarated. No matter how you take Walton’s claim that he’s the luckiest boy alive, the James series finds the truth in it.

Grade: B+

“The Luckiest Guy in the World” premieres the first two episodes Tuesday, June 6 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN. The second half will air Tuesday, June 13 at the same time, and all four episodes will be available via ESPN+ soon after their network debut.

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