By: Sherwood Strauss
“I’m reluctant to do this interview because, I think again it’s critical that African Americans tell their stories. You couldn’t paint it because I lived it, I experienced it.” –(Community activist Joyce Hobson, speaking to “No Crossover” director Steve James)
This isn’t a film review, these are scattered thoughts fomented by a great film. See “No Crossover” if you can, it’s of the depth, artistry, and importance of “Hoop Dreams.”
I snuck over to Steve James’ documentary during the Warriors-Jazz commercial break and never looked back. I couldn’t turn away from this microcosm of American history—especially when it overlapped with my favorite sport.
Awhile ago, I was over at the house of my dad’s friend. This guy’s in his 60s, probably considers himself a centrist Democrat. He’s a college basketball partisan, which often gets us into arguments that would be fights, were he not a patient lawyer. All in all, a nice person— someone who certainly wouldn’t think of himself as racist.
Shaun White was on the TV, irking me in that special Shaun White way. White’s an American superstar, but seems like the grownup version of everyone I hated in my beachside Middle School. Shaun was getting interviewed, spouting “for sure,” every other phrase. There was nothing special about the process; it was perfunctory break filler. I was detached from the interview until the lawyer chided me: “Nice to have an athlete who actually speaks English, huh? Not like…that KOBE.”
I was stunned. Say what you will about Bryant, but No. 8/24 is articulate in multiple languages. Mr. Tomatohead has a fun persona, but he isn’t exactly Cicero on a snowboard. The lawyer’s not a racist, but there’s something there. His conclusions are likely tainted by race in a way he’s unaware of. And this guy is a highly educated, Berkeley-dwelling legal professional.
So race (along with class and gender) influence our society in ways that can be murky (duh). Attitudes change over time—but old attitudes can come rushing back like the sand from a flipped-over hourglass. And we don’t really know the extent to which these unquantifiable emotions and preconceived notions have influence on our lives.
For example, I strongly suspect that racial animus is an essential chemical component in this explosion of Tiger Woods sex shaming. There’s a little too much “We gave this guy everything and look what he does!” for my liking. I have to wonder why this widespread meme that Woods owes us an apology (for having sex with a parade of white women) even exists in the modern world. Were Tiger white as Shaun, I doubt we’d still be obsessing over an athlete’s marriage. But I can’t prove it.
I have no way of knowing how much of the Tiger situation is race-based. It could all be rooted in a national Puritan tradition. Or perhaps we just know more in the TMZ era and overreaction is natural? There isn’t a pie chart, no one’s keeping score. We only have our assumptions, and worst of all, balkanized conversations.
When the Iverson controversy was Hampton’s trial of the century, the town’s divisions were exposed and exacerbated. Many saw only red in a world of grey amid a (likely) brief injustice. How did people react upon watching that clip of grainy brawl footage? They saw what they wanted, drew assumptions disguised as conclusions, and got angry over other people missing such a salient truth.
This film tried to unpack the unpackable, or at least dissect why it can’t accomplish such a feat. And that’s why I loved it. “No Crossover” is much better than “Winning Time,” because it examines that which divides and haunts. Sorry for comparing the two basketball docs, but there needs to be pushback against the “best documentary ever” hype attached to Miller’s vehicle. It’s not that “Winning Time” was bad—that film creatively depicted sports as theatre. “No Crossover” climbed higher: It used sports as an inroad into some of our society’s deepest, darkest caverns. For that, “No Crossover” is the one of the best documentaries ever made.
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