A graphic for the "Full Court Press" docuseries. A graphic for the “Full Court Press” docuseries. (ESPN.)

One of Lappas’ previous notable works in the sports documentary field was 2022 30 for 30 installment Dream On, covering the 1996 U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team. That “Women’s Dream Team” went 8-0 at the Games, won gold, and was key to the launch of the WNBA. It also featured many figures like Staley, Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, and others, who would go on to impact women’s basketball for the following decades. Lappas said her experience on that project factored into Full Court Press, and she sees this new series as almost a continuation of that story.

“I think it played a huge factor into how I approached this series, honestly. They’re both very similar, but also could not be more different. Those were like the unsung heroes of a generation that didn’t really get the credit they deserved.

“And this is like, finally, those women and all the hard work and all of the efforts they put into growing the game, it’s now paying off and this is the moment. So it’s really cool to have lived for two years of that history, and now putting together this, it felt very rewarding, honestly, to be able to see what those women did and how it’s paying off.”

In the fourth episode of Full Court Press, there’s a moment where Staley is on stage congratulating Clark. That sparks some reflection on Staley and her generation, which Lappas said both she and Clark feel is crucial for women’s basketball right now.

“We do a little ode to the OGs when Dawn is up on stage. And I feel like that was really important because, and Caitlin feels this way also, it’s like they did not get the credit they deserve,” Lappas said. “Now that we’re getting the spotlight, we need to make sure that we’re thanking that generation.”

But, as mentioned above, this isn’t a series that’s all light and flowery and full of praise for others. It’s got some notable conflict, and some criticism for others in the sport. And we’ve seen that with docuseries on men’s sports, including The Dynasty and The Last Dance, which have sparked plenty of headlines for their takes on key figures and key figures’ takes on the series. And Lappas said she felt women’s sports deserves that approach too.

“In terms of what I said about my approach, the approach to telling female stories in a way that’s real and authentic and not flowery, not overly positive, and really embracing the conflict as we would with men. With things like The Dynasty, it’s all at play here on these teams as well. And that was really important to me.”

She said that even goes down to things like the score. In this case, the series music is from Lucas Lechowski, who also served as the composer for Lappas’ Prime Video documentary Giannis: The Marvelous Journey on Giannis Antetokounmpo. Lappas said she thinks it’s crucial to approach scoring documentaries on women’s sports similarly to men’s sports.

“I hate seeing a documentary or documentary series about female athletes, and the score is like very bubbly, a little cheesy. It’s like, ‘No, I want to make this f****** intense.’ So I hired this composer who worked with me on Giannis ‘The Marvelous Journey,’ he’s so accomplished. And I’m like, ‘This is like Jordan, this is like Giannis.’ I want intensity in the score, and I feel like that really helps drive the tone.”

Lappas said the most vital part of any docuseries is the interviews, though, which is a tip she got from former ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi (now at Fox). She said there’s a lot of work that goes into preparation there.

“One of my greatest mentors in the business is Tom Rinaldi. And he always used to preach to me when I was a young up-and-comer, ‘Sound is key.’ You can have all of the bells and whistles and the pretty pictures and whatever, if you don’t have the sound, the interview sound, you’re done. You’re, like, it’s just not going to be.”

“So for me. I always take the master interviews really seriously. My prep work for those master interviews, like for Giannis, I was writing that question list for two months, honestly, leading up to that interview. And you’re doing the research, and you’re editing, and you only have two hours, you have to make sure that you’re asking the right things.

“I think that really helped me interviewing him, he’s a really introspective but larger-than-life character. And I think Caitlin Clark is that way as well.”

She said with figures like Antetokounmpo and Clark who are so widely covered, there’s an extra element of needing to dig deeper.

“People think they know these people. And so it’s really challenging as the filmmaker to try to get beneath that surface and try to explore some things that they haven’t said over and over and over again in the media. And so my preparation for that Giannis interview was really helpful in preparing for Caitlin Clark.”

Ahead of the docuseries’ linear premiere, there was a red-carpet premiere in Indianapolis (where Clark is now playing with the WNBA’s Fever) Wednesday. That saw everyone from Clark to Staley to Omaha Productions’ Peyton Manning and many more show up. Lappas said that was exciting because it’s still a new kind of experience for many of these athletes.

“It’s really cool because these women are not jaded yet. They all show up because they want to grow the sport and this is really exciting for them. I don’t feel like that’s always the case with A-list athletes from other sports that have had the attention on them, the spotlight on them for generations. It’s kind of like ‘Oh, another red carpet.’

“These women are like ‘This is awesome, a multi-part documentary series on us that’s going to be on ABC and ESPN+ and Hulu? We’re showing up.’ Dawn Staley texted me that morning ‘I’m in.’ It was a who’s who: Aliyah Boston showed up randomly, no one knew she was coming, and you know, Caitlin, and her boyfriend, and everyone. It was really, really special.”

A notable part of this series was the work from on-site producers Hannah Beir, Adrienne Gallagher, and Suzy Beck, who embedded with Clark, Rice, and Cardoso respectively. Lappas said they were key to the final product, and it was great to see them celebrated at the premiere.

“One of my favorite moments, on a series like this that we do in essentially six months, it’s a pretty tight timeline, and we’re with three different women. We have three producers, and they were all women, who are embedded with each player, as I kind of bounce around to all three and then I go edit.”

“The three women female producers were invited, and to see them, like, literally, Hannah Beir, for example, lived in Iowa, she probably spent the most time of anybody in the media with Caitlin Clark, and to see their relationship and Caitlin’s glow when she sees Hannah, stuff like that was really special as well.”

Lappas said working on Full Court Press was an incredible experience overall, especially considering how well the seasons went for each athlete.

“It was a magical season, it was a magical project, and people just kind of accepted us. And we all feel like we caught lightning in a bottle, and the athletes are really appreciative.”

Full Court Press is available to stream on ESPN+ and Hulu, and will reair linearly Saturday at midnight ET on ESPN2.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.