As part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series which celebrates the 30th Anniversary of ESPN, director Steve James was given the opportunity to tell yet another story of life and basketball. James’ first film “Hoop Dreams” is considered to be one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time. As you may recall, “Hoops Dreams” is the gripping story of William Gates and Arthur Agee who follow their dream to become an NBA player through their inner-city struggles. ESPN’s No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson is yet another documentary by Steve James that captivates an audience while also bringing to light a racial issue that made worldwide news in 1993.
In the early 1990s, Allen Iverson was atop the high school sports platform. He stood out on both the football field and basketball court for Bethel High School, leading them to state championships in each sport. On February 14th, 1993 however a terrifying incident changed Allen’s life and he may never have recovered. Allen was involved in an altercation with white teenagers at a bowling alley in Hampton, Virginia where he allegedly hit a woman with a chair leaving her bleeding on the floor. The incident created a rise in racial tension throughout the Virginia Peninsula, and even 17 years after the trial, there is still a racial divide that separates the area.
I went to the Philadelphia premiere of the documentary at the Prince Music Theater Sunday night…
…and was pleasantly surprised with the film. From watching the documentary, it seemed to me that James was trying to open a door that was best left shut to the people of Hampton and Newport News, Virginia. Producer Emily Hart answered questions after the screening and had this to say about the interview process, “It was frustrating. There were plenty of unanswered phone-calls,” said Hart. “There were parts of the story that we certainly would’ve liked to have heard, but in some ways it spoke volumes about the situation back in 1993 and how far we’ve come or haven’t come with either the fact that people didn’t want to revisit it or that they were really afraid that it would effect their names now or their jobs.”
One of those people choosing not to revisit the events of February 14th, 1993 was Allen Iverson. From what Hart knows, she doesn’t even think Iverson has watched the documentary yet. To me this just adds to the Iverson mystery and to the documentary overall. Throughout the documentary the picture of Iverson is painted by the people who knew him and taught him. His old AAU coach Boo Williams, his former neighbors in Hampton, his former attorney, and many journalists from around the area. There is also a lot of footage of Iverson throughout the movie that many people may not have seen before. Without as many interviews as he would have liked, James displays a brave documentary that will make you think about life and equality. This is as much a documentary about hope as it is a documentary on Iverson. It is a hope that one day class and race differences will cease and work together for a better cause.
“We had weekend screenings in the Hampton area where Iverson is from and the reactions were very positive,” said Hart. “There were interesting discussions after the film which focused mainly on what people can do as a community to change the current state of things and not necessarily on the trial back in 1993.”
For the citizens in Hampton, this movie is a wake up call. Instead of pulling the area apart, this movie should be the first step to bring people together. Sports are one medium that was always present in the life of Steve James and one that is present in the lives of most citizens in Hampton. James’s hope is that this small effort will change the larger picture for not only Hampton, but the citizens of the United States who experience the same struggle.
Overall I would rate the documentary an A-. It’s not James’ fault the documentary didn’t score higher with me, but I felt with more interviews from the likes of Allen Iverson, Ann Iverson, John Thompson, or whites who were involved in the bowling alley incident, this documentary could have been that much better. I applaud the effort which James gave to the issue, and ESPN should be very proud of the finished product. I would recommend any sports fan / Iverson fan take the time to go see this movie or watch on TV. The documentary will air on ESPN at 8 PM tonight.