Netflix finds the right formula once again in another sporting docuseries sure to find an audience.
It’s admirable how quickly and capably Netflix finds a niche and then attacks it. It’s like watching a shark devour swimmers who ignore those warning signs. While many lament the corporatization of art and feign terror at the idea of conglomerate overlords steadily portioning up all our entertainment, there’s a simple pleasure in businesses doing what they’re supposed to. Netflix has recognized that sports-based docuseries’ have a massive audience, so they’re releasing more of them. The long-running Last Chance U is the best example; Formula 1: Drive to Survive was another recent one. The latest is Basketball Or Nothing Season 1, a six-part series documenting the efforts of the Chinle High Wildcats to win a state championship.
These shows are all different. They’re about different sports and communities. The end goal is different. But they’re all the same in how they — rightly — recognize that sport is more than just a game. In Basketball or Nothing, the point isn’t just to toss a ball through a basket. The sport represents direction and discipline, opportunity, togetherness and individuality, and potential exposure for a community so isolated that the Wildcats’ games attract more spectators than the town has residents.
That community is the Navajo Nation Reservation, the largest tribal area in America. The funding and state-of-the-art facilities associated with basketball stand in stark contrast to the low median household income and lack of electricity and running water that are common throughout the reservation. Sport isn’t separate from social strife and academia; they’re all intertwined, one informing the other, which creates a greater connection to the coaches and players whose lives are inextricably connected to the outcome of these games. There’s a reason this formula has been and will continue to be popular for Netflix.
And as such, Basketball Or Nothing Season 1 will find an eager audience — no doubt about that. It shines a light on an underrepresented community who have developed their own signature playstyle to offset their physical disadvantages, and that’s basically a built-in metaphor for striving against the odds. Everyone loves an underdog, after all, and in a sporting context, the Navajo Nation ticks all those boxes. But the docuseries also showcases cultural pride and tradition, and deep respect for the stories it has to tell. Another slam dunk for Netflix.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.