A 2013 documentary about youth basketball offers more than a showcase for the talent of 11-year-olds boys. “Little Ballers” delivers emotional insight into young minds who have NBA aspirations, but learn about so much more along the way.
The documentary, which is being shown on Nicktoons, centers on an AAU team in New York called New Heights. It is directed by Crystal McCrary, who co-wrote the novel Homecourt Advantage with Rita Ewing, the ex-wife of Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing. McCrary was once married to former NBA player Greg Anthony.
Her son is among four kids highlighted in the film, and they offer interesting perspectives on basketball, life and their goals.
McCrary said the notion of developing a documentary started with her filming her son’s games. But when the idea struck, she moved ahead.
“I didn’t know where the story was going to go,” she told The Huffington Post.
Turns out, the story went everywhere, much of it McCrary’s doing. McCrary gets into socio-political issues and how Black males are perceived in America, areas that have become talking points to African-American parents.
New Heights was comprised of more than Black youths, but the film focuses on them.
“It’s about these four boys that come from diverse family and economic situations,” McCrary said.
One of the kids, Tyriek, lives with his single mother in the gang-ridden Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, the former home to Mike Tyson.
“Typically, when society sees a kid like Tyriek walking down the street in his community, he’s immediately written off as some sort of statistic or some sort of other, so the kid is not destined to achieve,” she said to HuffPost.
“Just because you are being brought up in poverty, that doesn’t make you a criminal,” McCrary added. “It also doesn’t mean you’re not brought up in an environment that’s filled with love, just as much as that kid that lives in the suburbs with two parents and a white picket fence, who also is brought up with love.”
The film, co-executive produced by recording artist Lupe Fiasco and NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, took McCrary to emotional places she did not expect, she said.
“Since the boys hadn’t had any real disappointments in their 11-year-old lives, they believed they could scale Mount Everest, they believed that they are going to make it to the NBA, despite the fact that the odds are overwhelmingly against them,” she said.
“And that’s inspirational.”
It was also inspiring to see the young players grow close.
“I also found inspiration in the bond that they developed as brothers,” she noted. “For these young men, race, class and culture really meant nothing, but what did mean something was the brotherhood they developed playing together as teammates and getting to know each other off the court.”
So, the film’s value is in more than watching kids play basketball.
“I’m not one of those people that says basketball replaces education, nor am I trying to sell a pipe dream,” McCrary said. “It’s just important to show that there are so many attributes that kids can acquire by being on an organized team.”