How the Dream Team gave us the 2008 Summer Olympic Redeem Team

Netflix’s new documentary, The Redeem Team, tells the story of the US men’s basketball team and its quest to win gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

It prominently features several star NBA players and Mike Krzyzewski. This nickname for the 2008 squad is a play on the famed 1992 “Dream Team”—a team that included some of the greatest players of all time (10 of 12 were on the NBA 75 year anniversary team).

That team began years of Olympic basketball dominance, but unbeknownst to most Americans, the rest of the world started to catch up. And in 2004, as many top NBA players declined to play for the Olympic team, a crop of young soon-to-be superstars were called on to represent America.

What was the difference between the Dream Team and the Redeem Team?

Few thought these games would be any different from years past. But a scrappy Argentinian squad stunned this ad hoc American team, thrown together last minute, shocking the basketball world. This documentary tells the story of the 2008 team’s search for redemption in the wake of that startling loss four years earlier.

Though compelling at times, The Redeem Team tries to fend off traditional sports movie tropes. In a sense, it’s the story of Goliath’s comeback after David knocks him out—not your archetypal storyline. Yet the film desperately tries to inject adversity into the plot.

A more seasoned, loner Kobe Bryant personality shakes up the dynamic. Dwyane Wade gets injured in the spring before the Olympics. They fail to win FIBA in 2006 to receive an automatic qualifier. Surely the team faced serious physical and mental tests, but the viewer is perpetually reminded of the overwhelming talent this US team possessed. Especially considering that since the 2008 Olympics we’ve seen stars like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony grow into the legends they’ve become. It becomes difficult to feel any suspense as the story progresses.

Nevertheless, what the documentary lacks in drama, it makes up for in capturing candid footage of these now beloved players. We get to see clashing yet complimentary leadership styles. Kobe Bryant’s relentless work ethic. LeBron James’s comedic, vocal presence. We also get to see Coach K puppeteer and push buttons to get the most out of his players. What’s more, the team genuinely appeared to be having fun, which reveals a human side to these revered athletes that we can’t see on the court.

In all, the underlying story told in The Redeem Team lacked the magic of iconic Olympic tales like the 1980 men’s hockey team, or Michael Phelps’s 8 gold medals, or the Jesse Owens trouncing Nazi athletes in 1936. But for diehard basketball fans, it’s chance to peek under the hood and spend some time with our favorite players as they grow to understand their own greatness.

Watch The Redeem Team on Netflix.

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