More Basketball Documentaries: Iverson, Telfair and Bias

July 29, 2010 in Basketball, Movie Reviews, NBA

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.

4/5

[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.

3.5/5

[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.

4.25/5