Doc­u­men­tary a ‘must-see’ love let­ter to hoops

USA TODAY International Edition - - GOLF - Jeff Zill­gitt

Film­maker Dan Klores for a long time wanted to make a love let­ter doc­u­men­tary about bas­ket­ball — five parts, 10 hours. He first ap­proached Dick Eber­sol, then the head of NBC Sports, and Eber­sol was so gen­tle in his re­jec­tion that Klores didn’t re­al­ize his pro­posal was be­ing turned down un­til Eber­sol es­corted him out of his of­fice, arm around Klores’ shoul­der. Klores moved on and made “Crazy Love.” He rekin­dled his idea with thenESPN boss John Skip­per, who told him, “Let’s do it,” only to call Klores later and say, “We don’t have the bud­get, but let’s do some­thing else.” So Klores made “Black Magic” for ESPN, and that won a Pe­abody Award. He then made “Win­ning Time: Reg­gie Miller vs. the New York Knicks,” one of ESPN’s 30-for-30 pro­grams. Af­ter the Miller doc­u­men­tary, “I said to my­self, ‘I’m not do­ing any­thing ever again in sports,’ ” Klores said. “Five years ago, I had a cri­sis in my life and I needed an es­cape. I went back to Skip­per and said, ‘I want to do this,’ and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ” It turned into a 10-part, 20-hour doc­u­men­tary called “Bas­ket­ball: A Love Story” fea­tur­ing 62 short sto­ries that cover some of bas­ket­ball’s most beau­ti­ful and com­pelling mo­ments from an epic race for the scor­ing ti­tle to un­her­alded cham­pi­ons to the WNBA to the spe­cial bond be­tween team­mates. The series, which pre­miered Tues­day, is not chrono­log­i­cal nor is it a straight line from one topic to the next. All told, Klores, who de­clined to re­veal the na­ture of his per­sonal cri­sis, and his team con­ducted 166 in­ter­views to­tal­ing 550 hours. That work is dis­tilled into 11 hours in the doc­u­men­tary, with footage tak­ing up the other nine hours. There is a book with the same ti­tle, an oral his­tory, that ac­com­pa­nies the doc­u­men­tary and is co-au­thored by sports­writer Jackie MacMul­lan, Rafe Bartholomew and Klores. “I went into it with a plan; these are the sto­ries I want to tell,” Klores said. “I en­joyed my in­ter­view­ing process so I would get those sto­ries, that di­a­logue. Go­ing into it, I saw it com­ing to­gether. I also en­joyed that I had the ab­so­lute lib­erty and free­dom to do what I wanted.” Bas­ket­ball Hall of Famer Earl Mon­roe is a pro­ducer for the doc­u­men­tary. “I thought it was a great con­cept, one that hadn’t been un­der­taken be­fore,” Mon­roe said. “The vol­ume of work that has been done is amaz­ing. I’m just happy to be a part of it. The fi­nal prod­uct is some­thing that is un­par­al­leled.” Klores wanted to shed light on the un­known as­pects of well-known sto­ries. For ex­am­ple, he said, “Ken­tuck­yTexas West­ern, it’s been done to death. I wanted to know what that win did for the black house­hold in 1966? How did it af­fect re­cruit­ment of the African-Amer­i­can ath­lete be­low the Ma­son-Dixon line?” He wanted to in­clude a vi­gnette on one-and-done, high school-to-pro play­ers. “How many times can we see the same thing on one-and-done?” Klores said. “I in­tro­duce the topic, but that was my way of telling the Spencer Hay­wood story.” To tell the story of the 1977-78 NBA scor­ing ti­tle race be­tween Ge­orge Gervin and David Thomp­son that went down to the fi­nal day of the sea­son, Klores used an­i­ma­tion be­cause there was no video avail­able. “I en­joyed not go­ing to the typ­i­cal place,” Klores said. While Klores had spe­cific sto­ries he wanted to tell, he also came across as­pects of the game he did not an­tic­i­pate, specif­i­cally the im­pact bas­ket­ball has had on women and the im­pact women have had on bas­ket­ball. “I’ve al­ways thought this, and I don’t want to over­state it: in some ways, bas­ket­ball par­al­lels race re­la­tions in the United States,” Klores said. “My work is al­ways about the un­der­dog, but the first time I lis­tened to Val Ack­er­man’s in­ter­view and when I read the tran­script, I closed my eyes and I re­al­ized, ‘My gosh, the woman is the out­sider. She’s been the out­sider for decades.’ Now, the film is big­ger than race. I wasn’t go­ing to box women into one scene. There’s women through­out the en­tire piece.” Ack­er­man, the Big East Con­fer­ence com­mis­sioner and first pres­i­dent of the WNBA, grew up in a bas­ket­ball fam­ily. Her grand­fa­ther was a col­lege bas­ket­ball coach, and her dad was a col­lege player, coach and ref­eree. She has been around the game her en­tire life. But she grew up in the era be­fore Ti­tle IX and didn’t get a chance to play or­ga­nized bas­ket­ball un­til high school. She ended up play­ing bas­ket­ball at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia, then played in Europe be­fore land­ing at NBA head­quar­ters where she was in­stru­men­tal in estab­lish­ing the WNBA. She shared her story for the doc­u­men­tary. “I knew what­ever he touched, he’d do it right,” Ack­er­man said. “I know he’s been hard at work, gath­er­ing in­ter­views, as­sem­bling this mon­tage of sound bites, footage and pho­tos and over­lay­ing it with this thought­ful­ness about sto­ries that have been told but also sto­ries that have not been told. “Any­body who cares about the game of bas­ket­ball, this is must-see tele­vi­sion.”


LeBron James is one of more than a hun­dred peo­ple award-win­ning film­maker Dan Klores in­ter­viewed for “Bas­ket­ball: A Love Story.”

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