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WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Bob Love walks into a room, it’s hard to miss the joyful, glowing smile on his face. But that wasn’t always the case. A one-time star basketball player for the Chicago Bulls, Love recalls times when he worked as a busboy and dishwasher, his physical disability nearly robbing him of everything he had earned during his 13-year NBA career.
“A few years ago, I couldn’t say one word,” said Love, whose severe stuttering problem helped lead to his dramatic fall after his playing days ended. Today, Love is a highly sought after motivational speaker, a former athlete who’s accomplishments off the court are even more of an inspiration than his days on it.
“Some of these young men go to college for the wrong reason. They go to play sports. You should go to college to get your education. You should never let it be said about you that you can run faster than you can read, or jump higher than your grade point average,” Love said.
Love’s story is one of many told in the new ESPN film “Black Magic”. In collaboration with award-winning filmmaker Dan Klores, who directed the film, “Black Magic” is a four-hour documentary which tells of the struggles of Black basketball players at historically Black colleges to achieve not just stardom on the court, but dignity and equality off of it.
Through the microcosm of basketball, the larger story of the civil rights struggle is captured through the stories of players and coaches at Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCU's].
“It [the movie] gives us an opportunity to identify with our heritage and our history, and it lets us know people who have struggled and paid the price for where we are now in the year 2008,” said Philadelphia basketball legend Sonny Hill.
A broadcaster, an executive with the Philadelphia 76ers, and head of the Sonny Hill Basketball League, Hill praised the movie’s powerful message. “The film uses basketball as a backdrop to the civil rights movement and the struggle of Negroes and Coloreds in years gone by”, Hill said.
“The basketball evolves and revolves around the great legacy of Black college basketball players.” But as a cautionary tale, Hill warned that the struggles that led to integration also came at a cost.
“Black colleges are suffering, not just athletically, but also enrollment. A lot of the Black colleges are tied into state and federal funding, and if you don’t have a certain enrollment number, your dollars fall down.”
“We’re being siphoned off into White universities, which is okay, but somewhere along the line, you’ve got to understand your heritage,” Hill said.
Another athlete whose story is told in “Black Magic” is former Washington Bullets and New York Knick’s guard Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. A Hall-of-Famer who retired in 1980 after a 13-year NBA career, Monroe co-produced the film.
“I think it’s important for the young people to see that the things they are enjoying now, that there are people who paved the way for this to happen”, said Monroe.
“I’m especially glad that people from historically Black schools will be able to see this and try and think back to those days when they were there, and the pride they had while they were there, and to try and give back to those schools.”
Monroe was a superstar in college at Winston Salem State University in North Carolina, where he averaged 42 points per game, and was known as “Black Jesus”, and laments that some young people today never got to experience the glory days of Black college basketball.
He expects “Black Magic” to change all that, as does director Klores.
“Through the lives of basketball players and coaches who went to historically Black colleges, I hope that I did something with this film that people will enjoy, that it will create a dialogue, and it will actually bring to light of the so-called majority world the contributions of historically black colleges”, said Klores.
“They [HBCU's] must continue to exist and thrive, and continue to develop, because I think we’re at a place where that can be threatened.” The film tells the stories of such legendary players and coaches as Ben Jobe, Willis Reed, John Chaney, Earl Lloyd, Dick Barnett, Cleo Hill, Clarence “Big House” Gaines, and John McClendon, among others.
For Hill, the potential demise of HBCU’s is real, but the answer is simple.
“The solution is us. As older people, we need to be able to tell the story. The story that this film tells is the kind of story that will be told forever,” Hill said.
A pre-screening of “Black Magic” was held on last Thursday at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington D.C. for more than 400 invited guests and media, with many of the film’s subjects in attendance.
The film is scheduled to air on ESPN on March 16 and 17, immediately following the NCAA selection show that names the field for the March Madness tournament.