Move over Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs The New York Knicks. Move over More Than A Game. Move over Hoop Dreams (okay, maybe not Hoop Dreams, but definitely the other two). Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell is now my favourite basketball documentary.
I first heard about the legendary Hook Mitchell several years ago when the film was released (around 2004), but I had totally forgotten about it. Last night, I somehow re-stumbled across this sad but redemptive documentary on YouTube (the entire film is there in 7 parts) and ended up watching the whole thing. If you ‘ve ever watched an entire movie on YouTube, you’ll know that the movie has to be really good to sustain your attention.
Hook Mitchell is widely regarded as the greatest basketball player never to make the NBA. His talent and ability on the basketball court is considered unparalleled by some of the all-time greats of the game. When guys like future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Jason Kidd and multiple NBA champion Brian Shaw all say that there was no question that Hook was better than them, that’s saying something. Hook has won countless dunk contests. He’s dunked over cars and groups of kids. He’s done 360 dunks over motorcycles. And he’s only 5’9″. (Hook started dunking at 5’3″ and was dunking in games at 5’5″!)
So why isn’t Hook Mitchell, the playground legend from Oakland, dominating the NBA right now?
Well, for starters, when the documentary was filmed (around 2003), Hook was serving time in prison for armed robbery. This is a guy who had all the talent in the world but threw it all away because of a bad environment, bad influences and bad decisions.
For every Gary Payton and Jason Kidd, there’s a Hook Mitchell out there. Hook could have played for millions in the NBA but didn’t have the self-control and discipline to stay away from all the negative things in his life. Watching the documentary, you really do feel for him. Hook’s mother was shooting up in front of him when he was just a toddler, and she was out of his life before he could remember. His brother was a drug kingpin in his neighbourhood. He grew up surrounded by crime, gangs, pimps and drugs. He hardly went to class but his teachers falsified his records so he could play basketball. Drug dealers gave him a gram of coke for every dunk he performed in a game. It was as though he never had a chance.
Having said that, Hook had no one to blame but himself. He had plenty of opportunities to turn his life around. Others in similar situations (such as Payton and Kidd) have managed to do it. People that cared about him all tried to straighten his path, but Hook pushed them away.
This documentary by William O’Neill and Michael Skolnik is very impressive. It’s pieced together by extended interviews with Hook himself (in prison) and those who have shaped his life — including NBA stars Payton, Kidd and Shaw, as well as Drew Gooden and Antonio Davis (one of my favourite players growing up). There are plenty of highlights of Hook tearing up the courts and throwing down one insane dunk after another. The footage from Hook dominating the prison leagues is particularly riveting because even at 35 he was doing some amazing things on the court, not just throwing down ridiculous jams but also making even the most difficult moves seem natural and easy. It makes you wonder the type of beast he could have been had he not been perpetually stoned and instead continued to work on his game.
The film is only 65 minutes and has very little repetition (unlike most other sport documentaries out there). The interviews are candid and the basketball footage is exciting. Watching Hook reflect on his life with that deep regret and sorrow in his eyes was particularly moving. The documentary has a strong message and is ultimately a story of redemption. Do yourself a favour and watch it now!
4.25 stars out of 5
Here’s the trailer: