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Director Jon Weinbach Brings Human Element to “The Redeem Team”

Weinbach, who also worked on The Last Dance, wanted to show a different side to players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant in The Redeem Team.

The Redeem Team, a feature-length documentary on the 2008 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, is out now on Netflix and provides a behind-the-scenes, inside story of the Mike Krzyzewski-led team tasked with rebounding from an embarrassing showing at the 2004 Athens game.

Director Jon Weinbach was a producer on The Last Dance and no stranger to hoops documentaries. A basketball fanatic, Weinbach grew up a Lakers fan in Los Angeles and got an early glimpse of the Olympics’ power while watching Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing lead the US team at the 1984 L.A. Games. At his previous job at Mandalay Sports Media, the current Skydance Sports president partnered with the International Olympic Committee on a series of documentaries and felt he had a big winner in this basketball project.

“This was a very significant basketball achievement that I felt almost had been overlooked,” Weinbach told Boardroom. “And that’s how we sort of got going on it. We had this unique chance to showcase the Olympic footage, which is challenging to get.”

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Combining IOC footage with NBA Entertainment footage, archival footage, and new interviews, Weinbach teamed with executive producers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to tell a far more nuanced story than a surface-level redemption. It was the arcs of Coach K, James, Wade, Kobe Bryant, and USA Basketball as a whole. Wade had just won the NBA title in 2006 for the Miami Heat with Shaquille O’Neal, but the team struggled in the following two seasons. There were questions about whether D-Wade would even play, much less star, in Beijing.

“In the context of a single film, what are the stories that we can bring to bear, that we can filter in that will be satisfying and that will be surprising,” Weinbach said. “As we went through it, the stories became richer than I thought they would be going into it.”

The natural inclination is to compare The Redeem Team to The Last Dance, though the former is just one 97-minute film while the latter is a 10-episode opus. The more apt comparison in Weinbach’s mind is a 2012 documentary he produced called The Other Dream Team, documenting the 1992 Lithuanian men’s Olympic basketball team. Like the 2008 US team, that movie centered on the more human elements of a group coming together for its own country for the first time after the breakup of the Soviet Union. And the film was about charting all that change through the storylines the filmmakers chose to focus on.

Weinbach Redeem Team
(Courtesy of Netflix / IOC / John Huet)

Weinbach always knew he wanted to incorporate Olympians into the project beyond being interview subjects. When Weinbach and Co. approached Wade in the fall of 2019, the all-time great player was enthusiastic about the project. He’d never seen the Beijing Games and wanted to share that viewing experience with his children. Weinbach said Wade helped broadened the film’s perspective as a producer, while he complimented James’ consummate professionalism and openness.

The Redeem Team filming came together during the pandemic, which meant Zoom interviews with 2008 team members like Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer, with a special assist from producer Greg Groggel on dealing with the IOC. And with all the streaming options available on countless streaming services around the world, Weinbach shouted out Netflix exec Dan Silver for promoting the film and helping it cut through the clutter.

The US team’s story crescendoes with its gold medal game against Spain, which was played live at 4 a.m. on the east coast on Aug. 24, 2008. Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio, and Rudy Fernandez led a really strong Spanish team, and the match against the US is one Weinbach called one of the greatest basketball games ever played. Wade scored 27, Bryant had 20, and the U.S. held on for a 118-107 win to again seal gold for the Americans.

“I hope it connects with viewers, even if you’re not a basketball fan or if you know the story or remember watching the game, we can learn something new about it,” Weinbach said. “It was a little overlooked given how significant it was with the people involved.” 

Even if you’re not a hardcore basketball fan, Weinbach hopes that people are drawn in by a human story with a portrait of team building and an inspiring look at the curtain pulled back and showing how the greatest to ever play hone their craft. After all, everyone loves a good story of redemption.

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