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Waiting on the Docs

Get ready for a big 2017 in sports films
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AFTER A YEAR in which sports documentaries soared, especially the exhaustive and ambitious O.J.: Made in America—a 467-minute opus from ESPN Films that is one of the 15 documentary features to advance in the race for an Oscar—the genre has a tough act to follow in 2017.

But the upcoming slate appears up to the task, with high-quality offerings on deck from ESPN, Netflix, Showtime and SI Films, among others.

Here's a look at some of the most-anticipated sports documentaries.

• RUNNING FOR HIS LIFE, DEC. 16, SHOWTIME

Produced and directed by Ross Greenburg, the former head of HBO Sports, this film profiles Lawrence Phillips, the former Nebraska football star who was found dead inside his prison cell last January while awaiting trial for first-degree murder.

• UNTITLED PROJECT ON PRISON FIGHTS IN THAILAND, WINTER, SHOWTIME

This film explores a competition within the criminal justice system of Thailand, where inmates fight to gain early release and even a pardon.

• UNTITLED PROJECT ON CELTICS-LAKERS RIVALRY, JUNE, ESPN

The 30-year anniversary of the 1987 NBA Finals—the third meeting in four years between Larry Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers—occasions a two-part documentary that examines the famed rivalry.

• LAST CHANCE U, SUMMER, NETFIX

The critically acclaimed six-part docuseries about the football program at East Mississippi Community College, in Scooba, returns for a second season. The Lions finished No. 2 in the final 2016 juco rankings.

• NATURE BOY, TBA, ESPN

Titled after the Rolex-wearin', kiss-stealin' pro wrestler portrayed by Ric Flair, director Rory Karpf examines the life and times of Flair—and what distinction (if any) lies between the in-ring character and the man.

• FIVE RINGS FILMS, TBA, OLYMPIC CHANNEL

In the first of a five-episode series on modern Olympic athletes, Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) directs a film on Teofilo Stevenson, the forgotten Cuban heavyweight boxer who won three Olympic gold medals but never turned professional.

WHAT TO WATCH

CHRISTMAS MOVIE EDITION ...

Dec. 15 @ 8 p.m. ET

Bulls at Bucks (TNT) or Four Christmases (AMC)

Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon can't match Dwyane Wade's career-best range (35.4 3-pt FG%).

Dec. 16 @ 7 p.m. ET

Kings at Penguins (NBCSN) or Christmas Vacation (Freeform; 7:35 p.m.)

Start with puck powers, then watch the classic movie featuring the Sidney Crosby of suburban dads.

Dec. 17 @ 2 p.m. ET

New Mexico vs. UTSA (ESPN) or Love You Like Christmas (Hallmark)

Year's first FBS bowl game or a lame TV movie? Don't you have some shopping to do?

Dec. 18 @ 8:30 p.m.

Bucs at Cowboys (NBC) or Scrooge (TCM; 8 p.m.)

Go with the football to see if Dak Prescott can keep channeling the ghosts of Dallas QBs past (Staubach, Aikman, Romo).

• CAPTURING EVEREST, SI FILMS

In partnership with Endemol Shine Beyond USA, SI is producing a VR-based documentary series on climbing Mount Everest that features a complete ascent.