Tuesday night I attended the screening for an upcoming ESPN documentary. Here’s the official press release— ESPN Original Entertainment, in collaboration with Shoot the Moon Productions and award-winning director Dan Klores, has announced plans for ESPN to televise a two-part, four-hour film tentatively titled “Black Magic” about the injustice which defined the civil rights movement in America, as told through the lives of basketball players and coaches who attended Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Co-produced by basketball legend and Winston-Salem State University graduate Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, the film will be aired in March 2008 with extensive support across a variety of ESPN networks and media platforms.

From more than 200 hours of interviews and footage, the film reveals the plight of these players and coaches as a stark but proud one, filled with obstacles at every turn. From separate leagues and facilities, to championship games and titles that never qualified for the history books, all the way to secret games played between blacks and whites in defiance of the law, players and programs at HBCUs not only thrived, but laid the groundwork for the proliferation of the modern athlete. Klores conducted interviews with Willis Reed, Avery Johnson, Ben Wallace, John Chaney, Bob Love, Al Attles, PeeWee Kirkland, Earl Lloyd, Dick Barnett, Woody Sauldsberry, Cleo Hill, Bob Dandridge, Sonny Hill, Perry Wallace, Dave Robbins, Harold Hunter, Miriam Samuels, Charles Oakley, Donnie Walsh, Bobby Cremins, Howie Evans, the widows of coaches Clarence “Big House” Gaines and John McLendon, historians Skip Gates, Cleveland Sellers and Milton Katz, amongst others.—————

It was very interesting, but I don’t want to give too much of it away so I’ll be brief. It starts off with the story of a secret game between Duke University and what is now North Carolina Central. The game was played to settle the argument regarding who had the better team, but due to the danger of even having a game between whites and blacks in the south in this time (1944) it had to be kept quiet as to eliminate any potential violence. From there the documentary discussed the reasons for the creation of HBCU’s in the first place and from there it touches on the Harlem Globetrotters, the Harlem Rens, the NBA’s early and segregated years, the Civil Rights era and its effects on basketball and the nation and the impact of mainstream schools luring players away from HBCU’s

As a HBCU grad (Clark Atlanta University) I was definitely into seeing the movie and hoped it was created with the proper historical respect deserved. There are some things in the movie that bothered me though (this isn’t really representative of the movie, just the people in it), mainly that HBCU’s should be regarded on the same athletic level of some of the bigger state and highly endowed schools. It’s just not true. For instance, Clark is a D2 school and we are okay with that. In fact a large number of students and faculty prefer it. At an HBCU nobody goes there with hoop dreams about one day playing in the NBA, NFL or whatever. We don’t put any substantial money into the athletic departments and never will. Why? Because we put money in academics. We want to graduate and become writers, doctors, politicians, etc. There are more than enough black dudes in the L, that’s not an issue. So when people talk about not getting the same recognition, it seems weird because why would we? We don’t have head coaches with million dollar salaries or fancy arenas like Cameron Indoor Stadium. Its not that what HBCU’ have are decidedly inferior, its just a priority thing. Academics come first and if the football team happens to blow the other team out during the homecoming game then cool. If not, oh well.

And for those who wonder about the relevancy of HBCU’s I’ll debate you on this blog or anywhere anytime you want. What we learn is the same as you learn anywhere else but without the threat or even the thought off racism. It doesn’t exist. Therefore you can focus on just being a student and not some random black kid who has to explain his hairstyles or music choices or have to defend himself against 3/4th of the class in a discussion about affirmative action. Doesn’t have to shock people when he or she says they aren’t feeling Obama, doesn’t have to worry about someone spray painting racial epithets on their dorm room door. Doesn’t have to feel like an outsider at a place where ignorance should trump intelligence but occasionally doesn’t. It’s just easier. So yes, I recommend this film and hope all of you will watch it and come here to the site and discuss it.

*****************BONUS**************

So after the movie screening and made my way to the Apollo Theatre to catch Jay-Z’s American Gangster Tour. SLAM contributor and XXL Lifestyle Editor Branden Peters had an extra ticket and I figured-what the hell. I got to my seat around 10 and Jay took the stage maybe 15 minutes later. He ran through cuts from the new album first, which was cool but I hoped it take it back a little. I think the new joint is solid but it’s not official. It’s not something that I play everyday or something that memorable. Its good, the production is interesting and his flow is always on point. Lyrics are decent but he’s been better, my main beef with the album is the theme. All these back in the day hustler remembrances just seem really dated to me. Who the hell wants to bring the 80’s back? What did the 80’s give us? AIDS, Crack, Reagan(omics) and sexually ambiguous singers. Prince is my man so I let him slide, and Mike too because he’s just too dope. But Debarge? Atlantic Starr? Come on! Grow a beard, spit, take off that mascara and be a man damn it!

The show really jumped off when he did the joint Success and Nas came out and did his verse. Then they performed an inspired version of “Black Republican” and energized an already amped crowd. Then State Property and Memphis Bleek came through and they all ran through their hits for about 30, 40 minutes—What We Do, Change The Game, Roc the Mic, everything. It was crazy. Beans and Freeway promoted their albums on the way out. Then Jay went back to cuts off of The Black Album, Blueprint, Hard Knock, just hits galore. For a solid hour he held it down. Dude has a serious catalogue. Nas and Tupac are hands down the greatest as far as I’m concerned (and truthfully those who don’t have one of them as the greatest, I look at them funny. Like Isiah is looking at Step these days Or Bron was looking at Drew Gooden the other day). Speaking of Lebron, yeah he was there too. And when Jay closed the show with Roc Boys, Puffy and Bron came onstage and rapped along to the lyrics. Lebron even grabbed a mic, he was surprisingly awkward looking for athlete but not a big deal. Obviously it was a good night.