For more than 50 years, hardcore basketball aficionados have known that some of the finest basketball in the world is played at Harlem's Holcombe Rucker Memorial Park. Turner Network Television's newest sports documentary, On Hallowed Ground: Streetball Champions of Rucker Park, brings the flavor of 155th Street to the uninitiated.
But although it dwells on the storied history of both the park and the now-defunct Rucker Tournament, the documentary is mainly focused on the present and the lives of those who play in Rucker Park's current showcase, the Entertainers' League.
Such playground legends turned National Basketball Association stars as Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mark Jackson and Vince Carter show up in the documentary, but it's the players you never heard of-boasting colorful nicknames like "The Future," "Half-Man Half-Amazing" and "The Main Event"-who steal the show.
Narrated by actor Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street), directed by Kip and Kern Konwieser (who helmed Miss Evers' Boys for Home Box Office) and produced by New Urban Entertainment, the filmmakers follow Rucker Park action for two seasons and capture its flavor, warts and all-from the crowds who reach out and touch their heroes and the hip-hop-style announcers who call each game play-by-play-man style from the sidelines, to a fight that interrupted one year's championship game and could have put the whole Entertainers' League in jeopardy.
Most of the teams in the Entertainers' circuit are closely tied to the rap-music scene and sponsored by record companies or entertainers. Its modern- day equivalent to the Boston Celtics of the 1960s or Chicago Bulls of the 1990s is Bad Boy, the team sponsored by rap impresario Sean "Puffy" Combs. Most of Bad Boy's players have NBA-level talent, but they were unable to catch on in college.
The filmmakers do a good job at capturing the camaraderie the players feel for one another, the adoration of the fans and the respect the players have for those fans.
But the game footage is the real star. Braugher's commentary and the cinematography combine to make viewers feel as if they're among those jamming into the metal benches at courtside on a warm summer evening.
On Hallowed Ground debuts Saturday, May 6 at 10 p.m. on TNT and repeats Saturday, May 13 at noon and Wednesday, May 17 at 11 p.m.
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