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LENNY COOKE (2013)
Directed by Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie
USA | 92 Minutes

Professional sports are known as a true meritocracy, a field in which the cream really does rise to the top, as there’s simply too much money at stake to operate in any other fashion. In uncommon instances, however, inefficiencies can occur and gifted players may fall through the cracks. Such is the story of Lenny Cooke. In 2001, Cooke was the number-one ranked high school basketball player in America, with future NBA greats LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony listed beneath him. Yet after declaring himself eligible for the 2002 NBA draft, Cooke, shockingly, ended up going undrafted, and became a journeyman playing in little-known leagues across the world. Today he lives in southern Virginia, a should-have-been-great who simply did not quite make it. The first documentary feature from American independent film scene fixtures Josh & Benny Safdie (Daddy Longlegs, The Pleasure of Being Robbed), Lenny Cook explores the fascinating question of how, exactly, Cooke’s seemingly assured future could go so awry.

Praise from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival:

“Penetrating and heartbreaking” —Scott Foundas, Variety

“Poignant, fascinating… You’ve never seen a sports movie like this before” —Eric Kohn, Indiewire

“An emotionally stirring cautionary tale… will stand with Hoop Dreams and Sugar as the best portraits of failed path to sports stardom” —Brandon Harris, Filmmaker Magazine

“Honest…devastating…New York’s Hoop Dreams” – Rafe Bartholomew, Grantland

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This film opens tomorrow (Friday December 6th) at the Howard Gilman Theater at the Lincoln Center, with Lenny Cooke himself, as well as the filmmakers Josh and Ben Safdie during the 7pm screening. On Monday, there will be a Q&A hosted by Rafe Bartholomew.

More info: Official Site

Buy Tickets: Lincoln Center

Doin’ It In The Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC is an independent documentary directed by Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau. The film explores the history, culture, and social impact of New York’s summer b-ball scene, widely recognized as the worldwide “Mecca” of the sport.
In New York City, pick-up basketball is not just a sport. It is a way of life. There are 700+ outdoor courts, and an estimated 500,000 players, the most loyal of which approach the game as a religion, and the playground as their church.
Doin’ It In The Park lovingly uncovers this movement through the voices of playground legends, NBA athletes, and most importantly the common ballplayer who all day looks forward to calling “next” game at their local schoolyard.
Co-directors Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau visited 180 courts throughout NYC’s five boroughs to create their debut documentary. They traveled to a majority of the locations by bicycle, carrying camera equipment and a ball in their backpacks. The film’s title refers as much to the subject matter as it does to the method of filmmaking, providing an unprecedented perspective on urban America’s most popular, and accessible, free recreation.
VIEW TRAILER HERE
——
This documentary is screening in select cities and needs your help to bring it to your local theatre. Reserve your tickets by visiting the film’s Screening page in order to bring it to your city. 
[NOTE: for those near or in the Boston area, there will be an “after-party” at the best place to have a drink and discuss hoops, Parlor Sports, including free Grillo’s fried pickles for those with ticket stubs. Spread the word!]

Doin’ It In The Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC is an independent documentary directed by Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau. The film explores the history, culture, and social impact of New York’s summer b-ball scene, widely recognized as the worldwide “Mecca” of the sport.

In New York City, pick-up basketball is not just a sport. It is a way of life. There are 700+ outdoor courts, and an estimated 500,000 players, the most loyal of which approach the game as a religion, and the playground as their church.

Doin’ It In The Park lovingly uncovers this movement through the voices of playground legends, NBA athletes, and most importantly the common ballplayer who all day looks forward to calling “next” game at their local schoolyard.

Co-directors Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau visited 180 courts throughout NYC’s five boroughs to create their debut documentary. They traveled to a majority of the locations by bicycle, carrying camera equipment and a ball in their backpacks. The film’s title refers as much to the subject matter as it does to the method of filmmaking, providing an unprecedented perspective on urban America’s most popular, and accessible, free recreation.

VIEW TRAILER HERE

——

This documentary is screening in select cities and needs your help to bring it to your local theatre. Reserve your tickets by visiting the film’s Screening page in order to bring it to your city. 

[NOTE: for those near or in the Boston area, there will be an “after-party” at the best place to have a drink and discuss hoops, Parlor Sports, including free Grillo’s fried pickles for those with ticket stubs. Spread the word!]

The Announcement (Dir. Nelson George)

"On Thursday, Nov. 7, 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson made people stop and watch at the Forum in Inglewood, California. But this time it wasn’t his basketball brilliance as a perennial NBA All-Star and three-time MVP that was captivating audiences worldwide. Instead, the 32-year-old ground-breaking point guard was holding a press conference to make the stunning announcement that he was HIV-positive and would be retiring from basketball immediately. But the shock of this declaration went deeper. Having the AIDS virus in 1991 was widely seen as a death sentence, and the commonly held belief was that we would be watching a beloved sports hero die excruciatingly and swiftly in front of our eyes. Yet Magic had a different narrative in mind. He defied the odds, not just surviving, but truly living and prospering. From his MVP performance in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, his participation on the original Olympic “Dream Team” later that year and an NBA comeback in 1996, to his astounding success as a businessman, philanthropist and ambassador in the fight against AIDS, Magic has lived up to the promise of his nickname.

In “The Announcement,” Nelson George and NBA Entertainment get to the core of this incredible personal journey and explore how he continues to thrive two decades later. “

Airs March 11 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN

NBA Off-Season Movie Nite!

Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot

Directed by Adam Yauch
2008 

Hey guys! Been meaning to post this sooner but Hulu only has this up for 3 more days so make sure to watch this great documentary featuring some of your fav up-and-comers now playing in the NBA and one currently playing in tonight’s Final Four game (Duke’s Kyle Singler). 

Synopsis: Follow Jerryd Bayless, “Be Easy” Mike Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Donté Greene, Brandon Jennings, Kevin “Senor Amor” Love, Kyle Singler, and Lance Stephenson from their high school days leading to an epic game at the legendery Rucker Park. A good look at the current state of recruiting in the NBA as well as the level of play in high school basketball post-Kobe post-KG post-Dwight post-LeBron. Plus it’s directed by MCA of the Beastie Boys so of course, the soundtrack is pretty awesome.

Enjoy!

cityplanning:

BLACK MAGIC which originally aired on ESPN in 2008 is finally available on DVD. It’s the story of basketball at historically black colleges,  the coaches who lead these programs, and the players who played for them.  Some, such as Winston Salem State star Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Grambling’s Willis Reed would find fame in the NBA, but most languished in obscurity, largly ignored my mainstream historians and sportswriters.

Black players weren’t allowed to play in the NBA until 1950, when Earl Lloyd became the first player to play in an NBA game, and even in the years after there were unspoken quotas that mandated that no team could have more than a few African-Americans on their roster.

The film begins with details of a secret basketball game played in Durham, N.C. on a Sunday morning in 1944. Held in a locked gym with no fans to witness it. Pionerring African-American coach John McLendon (who was in many ways the father of black college basketball), one of the games great innovators, led his fast-breaking team from the North Carolina College for Negroes iagainst an intramural squad from Duke University’s medical school. The game was illegal and unsanctioned.  McLendon’s team ran Duke off the court 88-44. 

McLendon is one of the most important figures in BLACK MAGIC, not only because of his many innovations and accomplishments, but because he served as mentor and role model for so many of the players and coaches profiled.  Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the iconic coach won won more than 800 games, and coached Monroe and Cleo Hill, the first player from a historically black college to be chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft, who was one of the best, if not the best players of his era, but who was blackballed from the NBA because  of resentment from white players.

Ben Jobe one of the most compelling figures in the film, a star at Fisk University, and a coach Southern Unversity and an assistant at Georgia Tech and the University of South Carolina, who was denied the opportunity to coach at a major college because of his race. Perry Wallace, the Vanderbilt star who was the first black player in the SEC.

Harold Hunter the first African American to sign an NBA contract and McClendon’s assistant.  Bob “Butterbean Love, the Southern University star, and legendary rival of  Willis Reed, who achieved All-NBA status with the Chicago Bulls, but who was unable to find work after he retired because of his severe speech impediment.

John Chaney, known by many as the long time coach of the Temple Owls, who starred at Bethune Cookman college, but was forced to play in the Eastern League because there were so few spots for African Americans in the NBA. He later turned to coaching because of the lack of playing opportunities and led Divison II Cheyney State to a Nation Championship, before ascending to his post at Temple.

The film interweaves historical events such as the “Orangeburg Massacre”, the shooting three students on the campus of South Carolina State by the National Guard during a peaceful civil right protest, an event, which preceded the shooting at Kent State, that was under reported and largley forgotten because it took place at a historically black college.

Normally I find talking head oriented documentaries to be dull and uninspired.  However BLACK MAGIC is blessed with some amazing interview subjects, particularly Ben Jobe and Bob Love, who’s stories are especially moving, even if you have no interest in basketball. As a result the film feels very much like an oral history, effortlessly weaving together the stories of more than a dozen of these coaches and athletes who came of age at historically black colleges with some amazing archival footage.

documentary:

In 3 Points, basketball star Tracy McGrady (T-Mac) of the NBA hears about the massive challenges children from Darfur were facing in the refugee camps in Chad, he decided to travel there. The director is my friend and colleague from our documentary The Excellent Theopolis, Josh Rothstein.
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