- Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius“Hook” Mitchell, and: Rebound: The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault, and: Through the Fire: Sebastian Telfair’s Defining Year
These three films, all released on video at about the same time (although Rebound was produced and shown on HBO in 1996), have the same general theme: basketball is the means by which an inner-city point guard tries to escape the ghetto and reach the “promised land” of the National Basketball Association (NBA). All three contain cautionary lessons and sociological analyses (at different levels) of the environments from which these men emerge (or attempt to do so). Hooked and Through the Fire are documentaries, while Rebound is “based on a true story” and a Hollywood production with major stars.
Rebound is the oldest and the least pedagogically useful of the three. It focuses on Earl “The Goat” Manigault, a playground superstar in Harlem in the mid 1960s. Hollywood sports films are notoriously uneven, and this is not a good one. The writing is hackneyed, the casting bad, and the game scenes laughable. Don Cheadle is 5’8” and never convincing as a ball player—Manigault was only 6’1”, but he was a strong guy, although casting Cheadle’s son as the young Manigault makes for nice continuity and adds to the film’s believability. The game action is so lame that one wonders how Manigault succeeded. Too bad; seeing actual footage of him would have been amazing, but in the 1960s few high school and no playground games were being filmed. Even the cameos are hokey. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says in the film that The Goat was the greatest player he ever saw, but this was scripted and Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t able to provide all the caveats (e.g., calling Manigault primarily a “playground player”) that he actually noted in a prior interview. The actor playing Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor at the time) in the film is about 6’5” or 6’ 6”, towering over Cheadle but not the presence who he truly was. Manigault’s exploits, first made widely known in Pete Axthelm’s The City Game, were legion but are cheapened in this rendition.
Hooked is the proverbial cautionary tale, but well shot at the point where Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell, a playground legend on the courts of Oakland, is on the verge of and then is released from prison for drug charges. The film moves back to Mitchell’s youth in Oakland in the 1980s and includes footage of him in games and on the playground, dunking in amazing footage that is worth viewing just for its creativity and jaw-dropping results. There is also film of prison “championship” games, which show the high quality of the games of some of these prisoners (contrasting sharply with the believability of the [End Page 142] game footage in Rebound). Mitchell is the central figure of the documentary, and his insights and regrets make the film painful at times. Top NBA players and former Oakland pals, Gary Payton, Antonio Davis, Jason Kidd, and Brian Shaw all agree that Mitchell was as good, if not better, than any of them, but drugs and a lack of family structure led him astray early. They also agree on what a great guy he was and is and that makes his tragedy all the more painful. Interestingly, both Mitchell and Manigault started non-profit organizations focused on helping inner-city youth stay away from drugs and get guidance on and off the court. Their respective films end with each of them working with young boys, trying to save them from drugs and the “gang banger” environment.
Through the Fire follows the exploits and decision-making of Sebastian Telfair during his senior year at Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island. This is the most focused and the best produced of the three films. Interviews with Telfair, his oldest brother (who doubles as assistant coach...