I have waxed not-so-philosophically about how I don’t care about the NHL anymore, but there was a time where hockey was my favorite sport. Hey, I was young and it was the late 90s: everybody did regrettable things in the 90s.
One of those people doing regrettable things was a man named John Spano. He was a Long Island native who bought the New York Islanders. Now, you may be thinking, “wow, buying the Islanders is pretty regrettable,” and you may be right. But no, in retrospect, what John Spano did defies any and all logic, even beyond purchasing a moribund franchise in a crappy arena.
Spano “bought” the Islanders…without any money.
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ESPN’s deservedly-acclaimed “30 for 30” series aired its latest installment, Big Shot, last week. Big Shot tells the story of Spano’s purchase of the Islanders. It was directed by actor Kevin Connolly, best-known as “E” from Entourage. I’ve seen like three episodes of that show, and didn’t like it, so I had no real attachment to Connolly when I tuned in. I felt like this, coupled with the fact that I was familiar with the story’s main points (read: I remember it happening, but was too young to know or understand the details), allowed me to judge the documentary a little more fairly.
It’s certainly an interesting story (and one that couldn’t happen now, right? I mean…right?), and one of the things that “30 for 30” does so well is tell these kinds of stories that you remember but really know nothing about. On the whole, if you’re a hockey fan, or fascinated by business, or just enjoy a good true story, I recommend the film.
That said, I had some issues with it, because of course I did.
First and foremost, the star of the documentary was John Spano. This made sense. However, the “supporting actor,” so to speak, was Connolly himself. I understand that he grew up an Islanders fan, and he wanted to tell this story, but he inserted himself into it far too much for my liking. He conducted the interview with Spano, which is fine – as the director, the best way to steer the conversation to the topics you want is the ask the questions yourself – but Connolly received way too much face time on camera. There was literally zero need for the cutaway to Connolly listening to a Spano response, but we had a number of them. Nobody was sitting there watching and thinking, “this is an interesting answer; I wonder what Kevin thinks? Oh, there he is, it seems like he understands, okay cool.”
Of course, I understand that since this is a bit of a personal story for him, he wanted to be more of a part of it. Okay. And if all he did was show himself conducting the interview, that would be one thing. Except it’s not, because in addition to interviewing the main character in the story and directing the whole operation, Connolly narrated the film himself. And let’s just say, Kevin Connolly is no Morgan Freeman. He’s the guy who does the voiceover for Best Buy commercials. Good for him, but like…I dunno. It just threw the whole thing off for me.
I do, however, think that landing the interview with Spano is the most important thing that Connolly did. He could have made the film without it – and he has said that he would have – but after seeing it, it almost seems like Big Shot without the actual “big shot” would be an exposé on Sports Center, not its own 90-minute documentary.
From Spano’s viewpoint, despite his initial reluctance, doing the film was a no-brainer. While he certainly doesn’t come off as sympathetic, hearing it from his own mouth almost makes you feel like you understand what he was doing and why. Almost.
In the end, like I said, it’s certainly worth watching. If you can get past the little things that bothered me, you’ll enjoy it. And regardless, make sure to take a look into the back catalog of “30 for 30.” If you like sports at all, you’ll definitely find something worth your time.