A rather formulaic documentary that proves the bigness of Wilt Chamberlain cannot be contained


TV Show

United States of America
Documentary, History


The filmmakers kind of had it coming when they named their project after the most well-known loser (and Chamberlain’s least favorite nickname!), didn’t they?

What it's about

This three-part documentary takes a look at the life of Wilt Chamberlain, the seven-foot legend who broke barriers and arguably became the first NBA superstar.

The take

Wilt Chamberlain’s story is inherently fascinating. An athletic wonder who rose to fame in the South during the Jim Crow era, Chamberlain had to pave the way for other Black athletes who followed in his footsteps. It wasn’t enough that he was good, or that he had the height to end all heights; Chamberlain had to be remarkable to be recognized by his white peers and the national association. And that’s exactly what he became, “an exceptional athlete who happened to be seven feet tall” as one expert puts it. So it’s rather disappointing that the definitive documentary about him doesn’t match his greatness. It gathers family members, sports experts, and fellow basketball players to share their thoughts on Chamberlain and accompanies their anecdotes with archival footage and photos to make a decently engaging but ultimately formulaic documentary. This will be fun and moving for NBA and basketball fans, but it lacks the magnitude to go beyond its expected audience.  

What stands out

In an interesting move, the filmmakers used AI to recreate Chamberlain’s voice—with permission from the Chamberlain estate, as they’ll eagerly remind you at the start of each episode. It’s a hit-or-miss gambit that has turned out well in the past with the Andy Warhol documentary The Andy Warhol Diaries, but that only works because reproduction is so tied to the artist’s purpose. Here, it just seems like a sad way to appeal to emotion, as if the project didn’t trust the (extensive!) material on hand enough. If anything deserves credit, it’s the delightful animation work that intersperses the interviews and footage; its storybook-like shadows add an aura of wonder to Chamberlain’s unbelievable rise to the top. Unfortunately, it’s overshadowed by the jarring voice that fails to fully encompass Chamberlain’s brilliance and warmth.


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