Review of 30 for 30 – "June 17th, 1994"

This is a review of the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary titled “June 17th, 1994” directed by Brett Morgen.

As in the previous “30 for 30” documentaries, there is not a narrator. “June 17th, 1994” goes one step further by not even providing talking head interviews to give perspective. Instead, existing news and sports footage and previously unaired behind-the-scenes footage are provided to give us the narrative which pieces together a day that was not only historic in sports, but also changed American culture in many ways.

Morgen provides some background as to what happened. Previous to June 17, the New York Rangers had won their first NHL Stanley Cup Championship since 1940. Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer was playing in his final U.S. Open at Oakmont. And several days prior to June 17, O.J. Simpson’s estranged wife, Nicole and her friend, Ronald Goldman were found murdered at her home.

On June 17, New York held a parade for the Rangers. The New York Knicks were playing in Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Madison Square Garden that night. Palmer was playing in what would be his final round at the U.S. Open before going to the PGA Senior Tour. The World Cup was starting in Chicago and Ken Griffey of the Seattle Mariners would tie Babe Ruth for most home runs before June 30th.

But none of those events would captivate an American TV audience that day and night as the unscripted drama that unfolded. Morgen tells the story as the day began in Los Angeles. He uses sports footage from ESPN (World Cup and U.S. Open), NBC Sports (NBA Finals) and the Seattle Mariners to show what was transpiring across the country. Morgen also splices news footage from New York for the Rangers parade and from all over the country in regards to the Simpson story.

We watch as the L.A. stations try to cover Simpson who’s supposed to go to the Los Angeles Police Department for questioning in regards to the murders. However, we learn that he never made it there and for a while, law enforcement had no idea where he was.

As the story progresses, we see the story bleed into sports coverage. ESPN has to mention it during the U.S. Open with Chris Berman from Oakmont. Off the air, we hear Brent Musburger at the U.S. Open telling a producer that he’s hearing that NBC will have to decide whether to focus on the NBA Finals or go with the OJ Simpson story. It’s those pieces of off-air footage that give us an interesting perspective of the day on TV and how real life was spilling into sports.

Then as Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets is set to get underway, we watch a flustered Bob Costas for NBC Sports talk with a producer about introducing the game while at the same time, wondering how to mention the Simpson story.

Simpson was eventually spotted in what is now the infamous white Ford Bronco driven by his friend, A.C. Cowlings. And we hear Simpson talk with an LAPD detective trying to keep him on the phone and prevent him from shooting himself.

Morgen put it best. June 17th, 1994 changed the way we watched news. News went from serious journalism to covering celebrity-fueled tabloid stories. In addition, an estimated 90 million people watched the slow-speed Bronco chase as Cowlings drove Simpson.

Morgen’s mixing of footage was the perfect way to tell this particular subject. While other directors might have interviewed subjects to get their opinion, the images tell the story.

This “30 for 30” has already premiered on ESPN but other airdates are coming up and are as follows:

Friday Jun 18: 12 a.m. – ESPN Classic

Saturday Jun 19: 12:30 p.m. – ESPN 2
Wednesday Jun 30: 11 p.m. – ESPN 2
Thursday Jul 15: 11 p.m. – ESPN Classic
Saturday Jul 31: 2 p.m. ESPN Classic

One of the best documentaries in this series to date, “June 17th, 1994” gets an A+. Well done and I highly recommend you watch the show when it re-airs.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.