Tag Archives: playground legend

More Basketball Documentaries: Iverson, Telfair and Bias

Since watching Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell on YouTube the other night, I’ve suddenly developed an urge to devour mote basketball documentaries.

And thanks to this excellent article on the Top 10 Best Basketball Documentaries of All-Time, I have watched 3 more in the last couple of days!  Here’s what I thought of each of them:

Through the Fire

This is a 2005 documentary which follows the life of Coney Island playground superstar Sebastian Telfair in his final year of high school.  As most probably know, Telfair had committed to attend college at Louiseville, only to reneg and head straight to the NBA (selected 13th overall by the Portland Trailblazers).

Through the Fire is a very solid film, and it’s not only because of the spectacular basketball footage (man, the kid had some serious promise).  The central focus is on Telfair’s background and his tight-knit family, which provides a very raw and emotional surge to just about every scene.  It’s also a commentary on the life of many African-American males growing up in the projects, and how they all hope one day to make into the NBA so they can buy their mothers a new house and give their families a better life.  The secondary characters, such as Telfair’s brothers and his coach, are clearly guys who are trying to live their dreams through him.  There were a couple of really stinging scenes in there likely to either make you sigh or make your eyes watery — especially the climax when Sebastian finally makes it to the NBA.

However, it wasn’t an entirely pleasing or sugar-coated depiction of Telfair’s family.  You do get to see the ugly side of the basketball star and the attitude problems that would continue to plague him in the future (as he keeps bouncing around from team to team in the NBA without ever being more than “average”).  Reading online it amazes me how Telfair can say he supports 17 relatives in his family and yet continue to do one stupid off-court thing after another.  It’s another sad reflection of what happens to some athletes once they finally make it big.


[PS: entire film available in parts on YouTube]

No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Allen Iverson plays with unparalleled passion and is perhaps, pound-for-pound, the toughest athlete in the history of the game.  Personally, he’s always been one of my favourite basketball stars.  At 6’0″ (in sneakers) and 165 lbs (soaking wet), it amazes me how Iverson could have accomplished all he has in the NBA (MVP, Finals appearance, scoring champ, etc).

Anyway, I initially thought No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson (a very new documentary) was about the “trial” of Iverson’s life, through all the ups and downs.of his NBA career  But no, this was actually about the real legal trial Iverson had to go through in high school, when he was charged with assault during a group brawl at a bowling alley.  It’s a fascinating look into racial politics in America, and you get the polarizing views of both the black and white communities.  For those who didn’t know about this dark chapter of Iverson’s past, they really should check it out.

This film was made and narrated by a white guy, so it’s interesting to see through his eyes.  I kind of wished the scope of the film would be broader though, and capture more of Iverson’s illustrious career.


[PS: entire film available in parts on YouTube]

Without Bias

This was the most haunting of them all.  Len Bias was considered the best college prospect in the country back in 1986.  Some scouts believed he was better than the other top prospect, Michael Jordan.  It was hard to argue, considering Bias was taller, stronger, and a better shooter than Jordan at that stage of their respective careers.

However, just two days after being drafted number 2 overall to a Celtics team that had just won the championship, Bias tragically died from a cocaine overdose, cutting short an unbelievably bright future.  It was the biggest news in the history of the NBA until Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive.

This was the documentary that affected me the most out of the three.  Bias was, from all accounts, a clean cut guy who had tremendous talent coupled with the rare determination to work hard and succeed.  He was charismatic and marketbable.  He would have no doubt helped the Celtics create a brand new dynasty (they still made the Finals that year without him).  That’s what makes his death so heartbreaking.  He had everything going for him, but one stupid mistake and it was all over.

Without Bias is filled with dramatic and haunting interviews with Bias (archived footage of course), his family and friends, and even the guy that he was with when he overdosed.  The basketball footage was also impressive, and it wasn’t until I watched it that I realised how good Len Bias was and could have been.  It’s essentially a very sad story (made even more sad by the shock epilogue) with a stern message about drug use and abuse.


YouTube Movie Review: Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell

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:

PS: For those wanting to find out more, here are a couple of interviews with Hook following the release of the film (IGN and TLChicken) and a SI article.