#WeTheNorth: Six Basketball Docs to Binge Between Games
By Pat Mullen
Need some b-ball in your life between the Raptors/Golden State games? To help fuel your #WeTheNorth spirit during the NBA finals, here are some 3-point basketball docs to binge between games.
Giants of Africa
Masai Ujiri is Toronto’s b-ball hero! The Raptors’ general manager deserves all the praise he can get for helping take the team to the finals this year, but it’s his charity work with Giants of Africa that’s most deserving of praise. This inspiring doc follows Ujiri on a journey across the gyms of Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and Ujiri’s native Nigeria with his philanthropic endeavor Giants of Africa, which puts basketballs in the hands of young men across Africa. This beautifully shot film gives voice to the players as they share their experiences and learn valuable life lessons on the court. Directed by Toronto’s Hubert Davis, Giants of Africa offers a touching portrait of building communities and empowering youths though sport.
Is Hubert Davis the Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto documentary scene? The filmmaker deservedly lands a second spot on this list for his excellent short doc Hardwood. This Oscar-nominated film is a personal study of Davis’s relationship with his father, Mel Davis, who played for the Harlem Globetrotters. Using a mix of archival footage and intimate interviews, Davis reflects upon his father’s journey and the impact of his decisions to pursue his love for the game.
The Carter Effect
Don’t think that Drake’s superfandom ends at courtside enthusiasm and allegedly selling lint pulled from Steph Curry’s hair on eBay. The Toronto hip-hop star/Raptors cheerleader served as executive producer for the 2017 documentary The Carter Effect, which is to documentary what Drake is to the Raptors. This crowd-pleasing film looks at the growth of the Toronto Raptors through the popularity of Vince Carter, who revved up Toronto with “Vinsanity” as the team’s first true star and scored NBA Rookie of the Year in 1999. “The Carter Effect’s greatest strength is its heart-felt exploration of the relationship between Vince Carter and Toronto, and the film’s unabashed pride in Canada’s largest city,” wrote Jonas Jacobs while covering the doc back at TIFF ’17. It’s an inspiring story for that Torontonian should see to kick their Raptors’ fever up to 11.
This nine-part series from the NFB and Red Bull should keep doc fans busy between games. True North follows five Toronto youths—Elijah Fisher, Keone Davis, Jalen Celestine, Malachi Ndur, and Cordell Veira—as director Ryan Sidhoo tells their stories as well as those of the professional athletes who fuel their passion for the game. The film features a host of basketball stars including former Raptors DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph, Damon Stoudamire, and Jamaal Magloire as it builds an inspiring underdog story bringing together Canadians from different backgrounds united by their passion for sport.
An obvious choice but a good one. Steve James’s groundbreaking portrait of two Chicago youths hoping to make it big in the NBA is one of the best documentaries ever made. This raw and eye-opening film follows Arthur Agee and William Gates as they pursue their dreams by playing basketball at a predominantly white high school that’s a 90-minute commute from home. As the film chronicles their dedication to basketball, James’ camera observes the currents of race and class that intersect with the boys’ chances of making it to the NBA. This year marks the film’s 25th anniversary and if you haven’t yet seen Hoop Dreams, now’s the time to fix that gap.
Speaking of hoop-related dreams, Sherien Barsoum’s short doc Player Zero might be just the ticket for a double bill with James’s masterpiece. Player Zero follows basketball player Richard Amardi as develops a reputation for mad skills and a terrible temper. Player Zero looks at Amardi as he moves through the college circuit and the National Basketball League of Canada, scoring baskets for the Brampton A’s and the Niagara River Lions before landing a chance to train with the Raptors’ farm team, the Raptors 905. Doc fans keeping tabs on the playoffs might know that Amardi isn’t on the courts this season, so this doc is a great chance to learn the story of one player who came close to stardom.