Today’s guest columnist is Ross Greenburg, whose directing credits include the film 61, as well as the anthology series Hard Knocks, HBO’s Real Sports and the boxing series 24/7.
When the great entertainment executive Sandy Montag approached Joe Lavine and me about a film looking back on how sports tied so closely to 9/11, I was hesitant. Joe and I understood the significance of the 20-year anniversary but questioned the need to retell stories that could again open old wounds. For myself, the painful memories begin two days earlier: My mom had passed away on Sept. 9, 2001, and I wasn’t even in New York that morning. All the chaos and uncertainty of trying to get back to the city, let alone figure out how I could help in the aftermath, is still a burden that weighs heavily on me. Maybe the world didn’t need this project, I thought.
But then Joe and I began to consider it differently—not just a retelling but an expansion of those tragic stories, not only dwelling on the loss but tying it to the hope and grit and perseverance that lives on 20 years later. Yes, we would pull from the great productions our teams put together in the aftermath of those days, especially the HBO project Nine Innings from Ground Zero, which told the story of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks, documenting the recovery of New York City and the world at large from that terrible day. But we realized, especially as we listened to great leaders like then-Mets manager Bobby Valentine and the Yankees’ Joe Torre, who became deeply involved with the project, that there was a whole generation too young to have experienced the hope and resiliency that persevered. We also realized that if there was a time to remind everyone of the healing and redemptive powers of sports through storytelling, it was now.
The result, Extra Innings From 9/11: 20 Years Later, which debuts on Saturday on HBO Max, goes well beyond what we thought we would have been able to do. The stories that reverberate are hard reminders of a very difficult time, but they shine with hope and beauty through the eyes, and the words, of those who lived through those days—athletes like Mike Piazza and Al Leiter, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, as well as Valentine and Torre, not to mention the families impacted then and now. What we had was not just a rehash of previous work—it was a new path, with stories not heard or told before this way, which made us realize that the audience for this was probably different from the one we imagined at the start.
By approaching these stories from a different perspective, we rediscovered the beauty of what sports can do—not just in a moment, but in a lifetime—through the memories and the actions of some of those we lost and those who live on in the families still with us. That’s the beautiful message we hope viewers will take away, and it’s the lesson we learned in making this film. We hope it serves as a reminder of how valuable our relationships are beyond the ballfield, and how the game brought us together as people, not just for a few weeks or months, but forever.
It’s a message that is as valuable in today’s challenging times as it was then: hope, unity and resilience for fans, executives, athletes, teams. Heck—even a reminder for all the brands that spend millions in sports. It’s not easy, and making this film was excruciating at times, but it is important. Now more than ever.
In addition to directing and producing Bob Costas’ current project for HBO, Greenburg directed and produced Extra Innings from 9/11: 20 Years Later—a feature-length documentary that will tell the remarkable and poignant story of how baseball helped both New York and the nation recover in the weeks and months following 9/11. It will premiere on HBO Max, Saturday, Sept. 11.