The Beatles were a dynasty.
From 1963-70, (not including their early days playing clubs in Europe), the Fab Four recorded 13 studio albums—mostly all-time classics—and cranked out a staggeringly voluminous, evolving, and influential catalog of tunes that re-invented popular music in real-time. They made five movies, produced numerous TV specials, sold hundreds of millions of records, and became four of the most famous people on the planet (more popular than Jesus, one could say). In the meantime, they grew into four distinct artists and adults with different destinies and inevitably divergent paths.
Before any of them turned 30, it was over.
Peter Jackson’s three-part Get Back docuseries—which hit Disney+ over Thanksgiving–is a revelatory project that refreshingly corrects the record on the band’s demise and offers a surreal fly-on-the-wall glimpse into The Beatles at work.
The band’s prolific output and unmatched creativity are distilled in the Let It Be sessions captured in the series. In January of 1969, John, Paul, George, and Ringo gather to write a full-length album, plan a live show, then perform it for the masses. In three weeks.
Instead of the dour tone of the 1970 documentary on the sessions, which paints the band as a bickering group on the outs, peeved by the presence of Yoko Ono, Get Back—without voice-overs or interviews—simply captures a group of friends who are somewhat stressed about a deadline and want to enjoy collaborating—while understanding that their lives are naturally causing them to drift apart. It’s a docuseries about buddies wanting to jam, immaculate fits, create brilliant art, and a portrait of the nuance, complexity, and love encompassed in friendship. For the most part, the vibes are good.
a love story in 12 seconds pic.twitter.com/XCBBy45ZuN
— rob sheffield (@robsheff) November 27, 2021
Jackson’s series offers unimaginable catnip to Beatles fanatics—a once-in-a-lifetime, behind-the-scenes hang with the boys. Because Jackson leaves in mundane moments (the “non-magic”, as Vulture writes) from the 60 hours of footage and 150+ hours of audio he pored through, and because the restoration is so clean, viewers get an authentic feeling of being in the room with The Beatles. My favorite moments in the doc are not Paul discovering “Get Back”, but rather the pals shooting the breeze in the morning—drinking tea, talking about what was on TV the night before, or what’s in the newspaper. Well, that and the glorious rooftop concert — the band’s final public performance.
I’m so happy Get Back exists, not just as juicy entertainment, but because of how it reshapes the narrative around the band’s break-up.
As I devoured the doc, I couldn’t help but wonder, as an NBA history fanatic: what teams of the past would I want to see get the Get Back treatment?
Here’s my loose criteria: Like Get Back, this theoretical doc would capture brilliant basketball (including practices), showcase eccentric characters, sprinkle friction throughout the playfulness, and feature a championship-winning team preparing to perform with the end of the long and winding road in sight.
Here are five classic squads of whom I hope Peter Jackson acquires 60 hours of candid content.
1969 Boston Celtics
The Celtics may have been the only team more successful than The Beatles during the 1960s.
Bill Russell led Boston to 11 championships in 13 seasons. They found pitch-perfect harmony on the parquet while overcoming extreme racial prejudices off the court. Few stories have emerged on severe infighting, and Russell is rightfully heralded as one of the greatest leaders in sports history.
“On the 150 hours of audio … during those 22 days … there was not one moment where a Beatle had an angry word to another Beatle,” Peter Jackson told Marc Maron.
That’s not to presume the Celtics had no internal strife, but they don’t carry that reputation. Their togetherness was their ultimate weapon. They ended on ideal terms.
Get Back takes place 15 months after the passing of The Beatles’ sturdy manager, Brian Epstein.
In 1966, Boston’s legendary showrunner, Red Auerbach, stepped down as head coach, though he remained on as general manager. Russell took over as player-coach. After the Celtics lost to the 76ers in the 1967 playoffs, John Havlicek recalled Philly fans chanting “Boston is Dead”. Yeah—neither was Paul. The Celtics bounced back to win the title in 1968.
But Boston knew the 1968-69 season was the final go-round. Russell and Sam Jones were slowing down. Boston finished 48-34. They gutted out a run to the Finals, where they met a heavily-favored Lakers team that had recently added Wilt Chamberlain.
Prior to Game 7, Russell was asked if the Celtics could close out the series on the road: “We’ve done it before.” The Beatles were stressed during the Let It Be sessions—and Russell vomited before big games—but they shared a similar confidence.
Infamously, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had balloons strung up in the rafters for all to see. Russell told Jerry West pre-game that those balloons were staying put. The veteran Celtics surprised the Lakers with a transition-heavy game-plan and culminated their dynasty with a 108-106 win.
I’d relish a Get Back-style doc on the Celtics 1969 playoff run, specifically of Russell’s masterful leadership at work with a team on its last legs—a la Paul McCartney pushing his increasingly distracted bandmates at Twickenham and the Apple studios.
I’m guessing the amount of cigarette smoking would be about the same as Peter Jackson’s docuseries, which is to say, bountiful.
1998 Chicago Bulls
Even though we knew so much about the Beatles, the insight Get Back provides due to its hands-off, candid style is more illuminating than any curated biography, interview, or traditional documentary ever could.
We were gifted a thrilling glimpse of the 1997-98 Bulls in The Last Dance. But, Jason Hehir’s series was a relatively formulaic combination of notable footage and anecdotes, interviews, Michael Jordan shit-talking and memes, and origin stories. That’s different than being in the facility for hours on end.
At the time of Get Back, each of The Beatles’ “Big 3” (sorry Ringo) was dealing with a particular issue. John: drugs. Paul: melancholy about his bandmates drifting away. George: wanted the ball more.
Compare that to the ‘98 Bulls. Dennis Rodman had his own substance issues. Jordan was over dealing with Jerry Krause. Scottie Pippen wanted more shine (and money). Fortunately, they had their Ringo—a quirky, historically-steady hand keeping tempo (Phil Jackson). By this point, the Bulls had accomplished it all, yet there was no shortage of drama. (At one point in Get Back, George Harrison quits for a few days. Can’t say I didn’t think of Rodman going on a bender to Vegas midseason.)
As the great units do, the Bulls were able to overcome their problems and age and fend off the Utah Jazz in the ‘98 Finals. Still the champs, still the best. I’d happily consume eight hours of footage of the Bulls’ practices and preparation during the ‘98 Finals (and an unrated Rodman-in-Vegas documentary, which we’re almost getting.)
2002 Los Angeles Lakers
The Shaq-Kobe Lakers stayed together through 2003-04, but the 2001-02 squad was the last hurrah of the dynasty. After ‘02, the accompanying arrangement changed and Kobe’s trial clouded the picture. (The Beatles didn’t dissolve until 1970, and recorded Abbey Road after Let It Be.)
By ’02, Shaq remained at the peak of his powers and Kobe had emerged as arguably the second-best player in the world. After going through the motions during the regular season, the LakeShow dominated in the playoffs, once again. This was The Beatles in the late-60s: able to overcome tension with talent.
Like John and Paul, the tale of Shaq and Kobe is enriched by their salad days on their way to glory. Kobe joined the Lakers at 17 and learned to be an adult under the watchful eye of O’Neal and the Lakers fan base. While their personalities and professional approaches clashed — Kobe was introverted, all-business. Shaq was extroverted and jovial — they knew the sky was the limit. When their first season together ended with a rookie Bryant air-balling four shots, O’Neal put his arm around the kid.
Over the next few years, the two stars experienced it all together under the brightest possible spotlight: Playoff shortcomings, a lockout, bickering about crunch-time touches, rumors of jealousy, accusations of selfishness, an infamous fight at UCLA, to name a few. That handy Phil guy joined the fray and helped the Lakers settle on their sound early in 1999-00: The team would revolve around Shaq. He won MVP and the Lakers won 67 games.
Kobe and Shaq made truly meaningful music together for the first time in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, as they capped off a 15-point fourth-quarter comeback with one of the most indelible connections in NBA history: the alley-oop.
A few weeks later, seconds after the buzzer sounded in Game 6 of the Finals, Kobe immediately jumped in the Big Fella’s arms.
The two continued to clash but maintained that their testiness and occasional disdain were borne out of love and mutual respect. Both knew a divorce was inevitable. At some point, Kobe was going to need to lead his own band.
“If we would have stayed, possibly we could have got six [championships],” O’Neal later said.
Kobe and Shaq had a unique bond, complicated shared history, and, fortunately, ended up as true friends. I know Paul is grateful he and John were able to reconcile before Lennon was taken from us far too soon. His fate undoubtedly adds a bittersweet element to Get Back.
A series on the Shaq-Kobe Lakers might be the most dramatic of this hypothetical bunch—things really did get heated—but I have to believe there were plenty of moments of levity between the Lakers stars that would be heart-warming to see. (I’m picking 2002 because the friction was intense, but I’d still want to see them prepare to roll the competition and complete the three-peat.)
2017 Cleveland Cavaliers
Paul McCartney could be a tad bossy, occasionally passive-aggressively so. He also might be the GOAT—a multidimensional genius who could play any instrument and make everybody around him better. At the latter stage of his career, he remains one of the best at his craft. Remind you of anyone?
The Cavs overcame LeBron James’ sub-tweeting, impromptu vacations, Dan Gilbert, awkward chemistry fits, and coaching issues to make four straight Finals, culminating in an unforgettable crescendo: Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. 13 months later, Kyrie Irving demanded a trade.
Like George Harrison (a maestro with his handle of the guitar) at the Let It Be sessions, Irving was 25 at the time—already having reached the pinnacle of his profession but feeling creatively overshadowed.
“Irving was tired of being Robin to James’ Batman,” ESPN wrote. “Tired of having another superstar — even one of the best players of all time — in control of his fate. Yes, he had learned from James in the three seasons they’d played together. Yes, he was appreciative. But Irving felt the time had come to take his destiny into his own hands. …Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in gameplay … James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history. Which means the ball was out of Irving’s hands more than he preferred.”
At one point in Part 3 of Get Back, George ponders sharing his catalog of unrecorded songs, then says: “Fuck all that. I’m just gonna do me for a bit.” Throughout the doc, it’s clear he’s ready to move on. (An amazing moment is when he breaks out an unfinished “All Things Must Pass”.)
The 2017 Cavs knew the clock was ticking on their time together, yet they summoned 51 wins, made a Finals run, and played some stellar basketball along the way. A Get Back-style doc on that Cavs season might not be the most pleasant viewing experience, but it would be undeniably compelling and rife with entertaining supporting characters—Birdman, Bogut, the Road Trippin’ hosts, the nephew of a Beatles rival, Larry Sanders, a future Dancing with the Stars champ, a future celebrity boxer, and, of course, J.R Smith.
2019 Golden State Warriors
Beyond all the musical majesty, The Beatles just jelled — as humans, as humorists, as lads. This was the way of the Warriors, too, beginning when Steve Kerr—(the team’s George Martin?)—began overseeing operations in 2014.
Golden State assembled the perfect combination of basketball skills with floor-spacing shooters and elite off-ball movers like Steph and Klay with defensive and passing wizards like Draymond and Iggy. The personalities similarly gelled. That cohesion led to some of the most selfless and groovy basketball that has ever existed.
The arrival of Kevin Durant in 2016 didn’t exactly disrupt that. He added an unguardable isolation option, versatility, height, and even more shooting. They rolled to two straight titles (a bit like adding Billy Preston’s virtuosic keyboard playing to the Let It Be sessions.)
Let’s go back to George, for a second. When he became a Hall-of-Fame caliber songwriter in his own right, there were suddenly too many cooks in the kitchen. The amount of talent in one band was untenable.
Unlike George, the Warriors didn’t relegate KD, nor was he the baby of the bunch. However, Durant never felt totally comfortable in the Bay, and he knew the Warriors were always going to be Steph, Draymond, and Klay’s team.
Perhaps the most remarkable scene in Get Back is when a covert lunchtime discussion between Paul and John is recorded thanks to a bugged flowerpot. The two bandleaders debate how to appease George after he quits.
“George said he didn’t get enough satisfaction anymore because of the compromise he had to make to be together,” Lennon says. “It’s a festering wound that we’ve allowed. Yesterday, it’s a wound that festered even deeper, and we didn’t give him any bandages.”
It’s possible a documentary on the 2016 or 73-win Warriors might be more joyous—a time of sheer bliss. However, a true fly-on-the-wall, flower-pot style account of the final season with KD that showed us how this championship-proven group navigated the simmering unease—which boiled over in Draymond and KD’s heated exchange against the Clippers—would be fascinating. Especially since, before KD and Klay’s injuries, the team played as well as ever through the playoffs and proved they were still the cream of the crop when at full strength.
Honorable mentions: 1973 New York Knicks, 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, 2012 Boston Celtics. Also, somebody please send Peter Jackson unedited footage of the Dream Team in Monte Carlo.
As Get Back shows us, historically-talented bands (not named the Rolling Stones), are rarely a love that lasts forever, no matter the success and the friendship achieved along the way. Regardless of how their stories come to an end, the good times and the beautiful music—or basketball—played along the way are always worth documenting.