How does one differentiate between a realistic goal and a fantasy? If it were as simple as an objective measurement of effort, this would be a boring discussion. Legacy: In the Shadows of Greatness takes a deep dive into three children of people who once turned goals into a reality as the new generation pursues their own goals. This documentary series throws a lot of stuff that you would expect, but it’s the unexpected elements that make it a fantastic watch. Because amidst the training and the highs and the lows of aspiring athletes, come multiple perspectives of the human condition and a deep emphasis on relationships.
Evander Holyfield, Dwyane Wade and Randall Cunningham all enjoyed greatness. In 1990, Cunningham was named PFWA MVP of the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles. In 1996, Holyfield returned from a short retirement to win one of the most watched boxing matches ever against Mike Tyson. In 2006, at just 24 years old, Wade led his Miami Heat from down 2-0 in the NBA Finals to a championship. All three earned enough money so that their families would be immensely comfortable. But the similarities don’t end there, because all three have children, Evan Holyfield, Zaire Wade, and Vashti Cunningham, who aim to follow in their footsteps.
Throughout the first two episodes, the stories of these three separate families are interwoven together. While Evan, an aspiring boxer, and Zaire, an NBA hopeful, seek to follow directly in their father’s footsteps, Vashti has chosen the high jump as her specialty under the close tutelage of her father. This highlights the first major discrepancy amongst the three athletes: their parents’ presence varies significantly. The documentary emphasizes how these varying approaches impact the kids. While Dwyane Wade is more laidback, divulging his secrets to success but ultimately letting Zaire determine his path, Randall Cunningham is far more hands on to the point where Vashti finds him overbearing. In the middle are the Holyfields, who have thus far found the most consistent success.
The differences between the fathers and their children’s upbringings are featured as well. The elder Holyfield explains to his son, “they didn’t know me when I was young, they knew me when I was ready.” For better or for worse, all three are thrust into the spotlight young. Zaire sees the brunt of the negative, as his social media following gives internet trolls free rein to try and tear him down. The show also makes it clear, however, that Zaire’s obsession with social media compounds the adverse effects it may have on his mental health. It is a double-edged sword.
Lastly, faith, particularly the Cunningham’s and the Holyfield’s, is a prominent subject. Randall Cunningham is a Protestant minister and Evan Holyfield, living alone in a small Texas community with his trainer Maurice “Termite” Watkins, finds a second family with his church. Finding a community away from their craft, outside the shadow of their fathers, really seems to drive Evan and Vashti.
This is nothing like a sports documentary I’ve seen before. While you ride along these three athlete’s respective journeys, you witness the ups and downs of parental relationships, the trials and tribulations of a young person trying to attack a world of adults, and the impact unearned fame can have. The story is fast paced and engaging, but not too fast to underserve the subject. And the footage of each athlete competing is high quality in a way that showcases their potential and gives you a firm grasp on what makes each special.
Legacy: In the Shadow of Greatness debuted on discovery+ on March 8 and will run weekly through April 5.