Keith Clinkscales, SVP, Content Development and Enterprises, ESPN speaks during the ESPN portion of the 2011 Summer TCA Tour at the Beverly Hilton on July 27, 2011 in Beverly Hills

*Now that it is now longer ESPN’s 30th anniversary year, the network’s critically-acclaimed series “30 for 30,” executive produced by former Vibe president and CEO Keith Clinkscales, ended in December with Spike Lee, John Singleton and Ice Cube among those directing documentaries.

Clinkscales, also SVP of Content Development and Enterprises at ESPN, took a moment today to reflect on the series’ popularity, saying viewers connected with the stories because their respective directors were so passionate about the subject.

“ESPN reaches sports fans, and I think what was surprising was just how much passion folks had for the nostalgia of the stories, and also the granularity,” Clinkscales told reporters at the Television Critics Association Press Conference today in Beverly Hills.

“The reality of sports coverage is that we’re covering things all the time, or we’re up to date and we get right to the current details. What these films allow us to do is go back into stories and get people that are passionate about it so you don’t just get the sports aspect and the fan aspect of it, you get the filmmaker’s passion.  I think that’s what we are very proud to tap into.”

The series, which premiered in October 2009, chronicled 30 stories from the “ESPN era,” each of which detailed the issues, trends, people, teams, or events that transformed the sports landscape since the sports network was founded in 1979. Among the most popular:

  • “Muhammad and Larry” from Albert Maysles (A look at the October 1980 Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes fight and its impact on both fighters.)
  • “Without Bias” from Kirk Fraser (Chronicled the death of Len Bias from a cocaine-induced heart attack and its impact on casual drug use.)
  • “The U” from Billy Corben (The racial and cultural evolution of Miami during the 1980s as represented within the University of Miami football team.)
  • “Straight Outta L.A.” from Ice Cube (The relationship between the Raiders and the minority fan base in Los Angeles during the team’s 13 seasons in L.A.)
  • “One Night in Vegas” from Reggie Rock Bythewood (The friendship of boxer Mike Tyson and rapper Tupac Shakur and the night of September 7, 1996, when Shakur was murdered after attending the Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight in Las Vegas.)
  • “Marion Jones: Press Pause” from John Singleton (The successful track and field career of Marion Jones, her 2007 admission of performance-enhancing drug use, and subsequent prison sentence.)
  • “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks” from Dan Klores (The impact of Reggie Miller on the New York Knicks in the 1990s.)
  • “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson” from Steve James (The 1993 trial of Hampton, Virginia high school athlete Allen Iverson, convicted for his role in a racially-tinged melee, and its impact on both the community and on Iverson’s life.)

In the bonus audio below, Clinkscales describes how the appeal of “30 for 30” managed to extend  beyond sports fans.

ESPN’s Keith Clinkscales on the Joy of Producing 30 for 30 series by CherieNic