Wednesday, November 04, 2009

What makes this growna** man cry?

Well, I didn't quite this morning when I read just what has happened to "Hustle & Flow" director Craig Brewer, but that's pretty thoroughly depressing too, so let's just start there.

It's really hard to exaggerate just how much I love "Hustle & Flow." It's just a very moving story incredibly well told, and it was easily one of my favorite movies of 2005 (coincidentally enough the year I started doing this.) I really had very little time for "Black Snake Moan" apart from seeing David Banner's debut movie role, but I'm still glad I saw it, because it's at least the most fascinating kind of mess.

Now, however, and believe me, I'm not making this up, Mr. Brewer is on a very short list of the directors being considered to step in and take over the remake of "Footloose" that would star Gossip Girl's Chace Crawford. Wow. Sounds like a nightmare to me, but when Kenny Ortega was removed from this, he said whichever studio is making this wanted something "edgier" than the straight-up feel-good musical he had in mind. Well, if that's what they really want, I suppose they'll get it with Brewer.

But enough of that. This was supposed to be about the ESPN movie "Without Bias," which just happens to be about easily my favorite athlete in any sport, any time, and of course just one of the saddest sports and life stories you'll ever hear.

I wasn't sure I could bring myself to watch it at first. As usual, because he's a much better writer than me, mi hermano puts it a whole lot better why Len Bias was so important to us kids growing up in Maryland in the '80s.

He was certainly much more than a basketball player for my beloved Maryland Terrapins, who, now that Comcast has relented and given us, I'll still watch in just about every single game they play (hey, since they finally managed to sign two kids who at least start to approach being able to play center and Greivis Vasquez is coming back, they're gonna be pretty great this year.)

But not ever as great as they were when they had Bias. If you somehow don't know the story, Len Bias, after making his college career a rather amazing highlight reel, signed with the Boston Celtics as the No. 2 player in the NBA draft (who in the world could have gone higher? Brad Daugherty, in case you're wondering.) He would, however, never get to play a game for the Celts, because as he was celebrating his good fortune with some teammates, Brian Tribble (more on him later) and a supply of fishscale cocaine, his heart would stop less than two days later. I can still remember just laying in bed and bawling about it, and just thinking about today makes me start to break down all over again.

So, it's certainly a compelling story, but how does director Kirk Fraser do with his hourlong ESPN feature? Well, from the perspective of someone who clearly cares about the subject, I'd say fairly well.

He very efficiently sets up just how great Lenny was with highlights of his college career, and just seeing him shoot that pure jump shot again was a thing of sheer beauty. This is supplemented with a lot of talking heads who provide varying degrees of insight into his life, but the best of it comes from Bias himself and his former Terrapin teammates, including Jeff Baxter, Derrick Lewis, David Gregg and, my sentimental favorite, Keith Gatlin (and no, not just because we share a first name. He solidified that title with one play, which if you stick with me to the end, you'll get to see.)

After the first commercial break, however, is when it gets into the still very chilling details of Bias' death, and that's when I had to stop the DVR'ed show several times because - although it's extremely well done - it was really just too much for me to take (and yes, as the title of this post makes clear, this grownass man did indeed cry again last night about Len Bias.) Fraser deals with the sad story very efficiently through the eyes of people who where there or very near by at the time, chiefly Baxter and Gregg. And we hear a whole lot from Brian Tribble, who was demonized at the time as the man who provided Lenny with the coke (personally, I could never really buy him as the enemy - they were clearly friends, and Bias was himself a grownass man who made a very big mistake of his own volition.)

The movie falls apart more than a bit at the end as it delves into several plotlines (did Bias' death spur mandatory minimums? what about the equally tragic death of brother Jay Bias?) that never get any resolution, but by that point Fraser had already slain me, so I was just too wrapped up in it to quibble.

Just how seriously do folks like me take the story of Len Bias? I'll leave you with this quote from basketball commentator Jay Bilas which, though it may indeed be extreme hyperbole, is still very much at least kinda true:

"For people of my parents' generation, they mark time by when President Kennedy was assassinated. For me, and I think for many people who are about this age, I mark time by the death of Len Bias. We knew exactly where we were when told he had died."

Now, don't get me wrong. I'd certainly never equate Bias with JFK, but on at least one level, Bilas is dead right: In the rather limited world of a 16-year-old when you first hear news like that, it is indeed something that sticks with you for the rest of your life, and why I can still remember it so vividly today.

As for Fraser's movie, you can watch it five more times on the ESPN networks. Here are the times:

Tonight, 10 pm ESPN 2
Thursday, 10 pm ESPN Classic
Thursday, 11:30pm ESPN 2
Sunday, 9 pm ESPN Classic
Monday, 7 pm ESPN 2

And, as promised, I'll leave with what is still my favorite Maryland Terrapins clip of all time. I won't spoil it for you completely, but let's just say it involves Keith Gatlin, Kenny Smith and the thorough shaming of Dean Smith's UNC Tar Heels. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.


Demko said...

That Gatlin play is so awesome. It could only be better if it happened against Duke.

Erika said...


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Thank you!

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Underground Movies Outdoors

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm almost with you there, Paul, but I've always hated Kenny Smith so much that I wouldn't have that play any other way

And I'm not sure how much help I can be, Erika, but I'd be glad to mention your project, because it certainly sounds like a worthy one