“Dream On” is the first ESPN Films 30 for 30 production about women’s sports to receive a multi-part docuseries. The three episodes cover the 14-month journey of the 1996 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team, which is credited as laying the foundation for the launch of the WNBA. Now showing on ESPN, it had its world premiere last week with players and head coach Tara VanDerveer.
“We were a little naïve because we knew we wanted to win a gold medal, but we had no idea what [the process] would feel like,” said Carol Callan, former National Women’s Team director for USA Basketball. “We wanted to be perfect.”
Paid $50,000 a piece for the 14 months, several players took significant pay cuts from what they earned playing overseas. The schedule was grueling and VanDerveer could be brutal in her criticism. Not only were they expected to be ferocious on the court, but also portray a heteronormative picture off of it.
In the current day interviews, Jennifer Azzi, now an executive with the Las Vegas Aces, said she believes the reason she was cut from the 1992 Olympic Team was because she was gay even though she wasn’t publicly out. “I’m so grateful that [today] I can just live a great life, have a wonderful wife, amazing children,” Azzi said. “There was a time in my life where I didn’t feel like I could be 100% open.”
The premiere took place at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, a building familiar to the final player added to the 1996 team, Venus Lacy, who played with the New York Liberty in 1999. “This film is well overdue,” said Lacy, who coaches. “It means everything to be with my Olympic teammates. I’m so happy that Tara chose me to be a part of the 1996 team.”
Carla McGhee said she wishes she’d kept a journal during those fateful 14 months. The film, which includes vintage footage that helped propel director Kristen Lappas through the storytelling, will bring back many memories. “I would tell my younger self to enjoy the moment,” said McGhee. “We did so many firsts…that I didn’t understand the full scope of it. Now I see, we were trailblazers. We made it possible for people to dream about so many different parts of women’s basketball.”