As a film critic and sports fan, it's always an interesting moment when the two are combined. Mostly I'm forced to watch retreads of Hoosiers and Rocky, in which a down-and-out team rises up and wins the big game. However, on a rare occasion there is a sports film that can truly move a person. Films like the aforementioned two, The Pride of the Yankees, or The Wrestler to name a few.
I was excited when ESPN announced their "30 for 30" project, a series of 30 documentaries celebrating 30 years in the history of ESPN. This was exciting news to me, especially considering the directors who were collaborating with some of these projects: Peter Berg, Barry Levinson, and most notably Steve James.
Most are not aware of Steve James, but he is the man responsible for creating arguably one of the best documentaries of all time, Hoop Dreams. James has yet to match his success with Hoop Dreams, but he has shown us that he still has talent as a filmmaker and made his second best film to date with No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson.
This was a film that I paid special attention to because I was born and still live part-time in Southeastern Virginia, the area which this film takes place in. The Tidewater region has had a history of talented athletes.
One of the high schools that I attended was the home of Lawrence Taylor and Ron Springs. Michael Vick and Marcus Vick went and played football at a high school in the same district as Iverson. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin played football against Iverson at Denbeigh High School while while Iverson was at Bethel.
Although I was too young to know about Iverson's high school days, or the incident that would forever change his life, I grew up with many people admiring and despising the NBA star. I lived right in the middle of all the events that were described in the film, only in safe white suburbia.
Iverson was a two-sport star at Bethel High School. He led the Bruins to state championships in both football and basketball, an received many scholarship offers to play both sports. He was on his way to superstardom.
But on the night of February 14, 1993, Iverson and his friends were at a bowling alley in Hampton, Virginia, when a fight broke out between several white bowlers, and Iverson and his friends. The fight supposedly broke out after the white men used racial epithets against Iverson's friends. Iverson and three of his friends were arrested and tried for felony "maiming by a mob."
After a lengthy and controversial trial, Iverson was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, 10 years suspended. After serving four months, Governor Douglas Wilder granted Iverson clemency.
The film chronicles all of these events by showing archival footage of the trial, and interviews with many of the people involved. Most of the white
James's neutrality was a refreshing part of the documentary that chronicles Iverson's early life, the incident, the trial, and the community's divided reaction to the entire situation.
James, also a Hampton Roads native, was away in Chicago filming Hoop Dreams at the time of Iverson's trial, but his parents witnessed the events that occurred (his mother is still alive).
He interviews people who knew Iverson as a teenager trying to find out who Iverson truly is, which is still a little muddled. His NBA persona tends to outshine who he was as a star in high school.
One interesting point that James made was the fact that this trial occurred before O.J. Simpson's trial, which divided the entire country along racial lines. Iverson's trial divided whites and blacks in Southeastern Virginia.
Most of the white community believed that Iverson should pay for his crimes, which has nothing to do with his race (A point that we stress).
The black community believed that he was being tried and punished due to his skin color, and a white athlete that committed similar crimes wouldn't be punished so harshly.
Both sides had valid points, then and now.
There are still a lot of questions regarding the events that occurred in 1993. My opinions remain largely unchanged. But I feel like I know more about the things that transpired, which changed the area where I grew up in, and how the country views athletes in regards to the law after watching the film.
Iverson's career crashed and burned this season, and although I've never liked Iverson, I can now feel sympathy for him. This documentary shed light on a complex man who I guess we'll never figure out.
If you weren't able to watch the original airing on ESPN I advise you to look for it in reruns on ESPN and their affiliate stations.