Gotham Chopra, Tom Brady, and the ‘Religion of Sports’

The second part of documentary series involving the Patriots' quarterback airs Tuesday.

Tom Brady is one of the executive producers of the new 'Religion of Sports' documentary series.
Tom Brady is one of the executive producers of the new 'Religion of Sports' documentary series. –Bill Wippert / AP

COMMENTARY

Sometimes the inspiration for a life’s work comes from your parents. For others, perhaps the genesis is religion, upbringing, or an insatiable curiosity about what stimulates the world to function as it does. And for others among us, maybe, just maybe, the Larry Bird-era Celtics had a rousing effect.

For filmmaker Gotham Chopra, the inspiration came from all of those things, and in abundance.

Chopra, son of famed author and spiritual medicine advocate Deepak Chopra and a lifelong Boston sports fan, has melded all of these elements into his latest work, a six-part documentary series titled Religion of Sports that premiered last week on DirecTV’s Audience Network and AT&T’s U-Verse.

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The series, which gained advance notice locally because of the involvement of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as an executive producer, examines the spiritual parallels between sports and religion as well as the devotion and sense of community that they engender.

Among the topics are minor league baseball, mixed martial arts, a small-town NASCAR race, and even e-sports. The second episode airs Tuesday night at 8 p.m.

“In some ways, I have been working on this project my whole life,’’ said Chopra, a Belmont Hill graduate whose Boston sports bona fides include directing ESPN’s multipart documentary series David Ortiz: The Last Walkoff that aired throughout the past baseball season. “Growing up in Boston with the family that I did, I was of course aware of my dad’s wisdom and journey and the work that he did.

“But I was a sports nut. I was a Celtics fan during that incredible run in the ‘80s with Bird and [Kevin] McHale and that extraordinary team. I was a Bruins fan. I was a victim of the Red Sox curse. I was a Patriots fan and lived through all of those frustrating years, the Irving Fryar debacles and all of that.

‘’And yet I stayed a passionate fan. And when I was a teenager I started to realize everything that my father sort of talks about and what his world is about exists in sports to some degree. I’d go to Boston Garden and feel like part of something bigger than myself.

“Sports transcends all of the differences that we have. So in some respect it’s something I’ve been working on for a long time, even if I may not have known it right away.”

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Chopra hasn’t lived in Boston since he was 18 years old.  He’s now based in Los Angeles. Sports have been his tool to maintain his hometown connection. “I have every sports package known to man,” he says, noting with bemused pride that his 9-year-old son’s fantasy football team is all Patriots. “It’s a bond between my community of friends from Boston, something we live and share together. It’s brought a lot of meaning.”

Chopra has worked with high-profile athletes before, Ortiz most recently, but also Kobe Bryant, with whom he collaborated on a well-regarded documentary for Showtime in 2012. “After he blew out his Achilles [in 2013],” said Chopra, “I joked with Kobe, ‘I wished this upon you so many times in my life.'”

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This project began to take shape four or five years ago, Chopra said, when he met with former Giants star Michael Strahan, who was already beginning to make waves in his now wildly successful media career. “He related to it, not just from his own perspective as an athlete, but he saw it as a different way to talk about sports, which is such a robust industry,” said Chopra, who noted Strahan’s web of connections (producers, agents, managers) proved very helpful.

Brady’s involvement came about in a more organic manner. Brady used to spend his offseasons in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, and he met Chopra through mutual friends three years ago. They kept in touch, and eventually, Chopra ran the idea for his passion project by him.

“He has never done anything like this and is still obviously very much a player,’’ said Chopra. “But he was interested and we talked at length about sports being a spiritual experience. He knows what it’s like to be that guy sitting at the center of that faith so long. And so he talked about Sundays being a spiritual exercise for him.”

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The six documentaries offer diverse subject matter, in order, Chopra said, to transcend one particular world view. They also are not representative of the traditional mainstream American sports leagues, in part because the likes of the NFL can be challenging to work with, but also because of Chopra’s quest to learn and experience something that was unfamiliar.

“I’m a football-baseball-basketball-hockey fan. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life watching and understanding their appeal — I feel pretty well versed in those,” he said.  ‘’In some ways it’s an opportunity to look at other sports. I’ve never been to a UFC fight or a European soccer match. This fulfilled a curiosity.

“Now that people know we’re doing this, they have suggestions, like you really need to look at this high school hockey rivalry in northern Minnesota. People from India, they’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, the India-Pakistan cricket match, you’ve got to see it, everything else stops.”

Chopra, who said he would like to continue the series as a long-term project, believes that sports on the local level form the foundation of faith.

“There really isn’t a place on earth where people big or small don’t love sports,” he said. “It’s often the one thing that defines the community that they live in. It’s not just religion, it’s often the better religion. It doesn’t require faith and dogma and all of these other rules and regulations. It requires participation. You show up, miracles kind of happen.”

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