Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Black Magic": Must-See TV

ESPN's two-part series "Black Magic," which aired commercial-free on Sunday and Monday night, is must-see TV, to borrow an old tagline from another network. "Black Magic" interweaves the story of the development of the basketball programs at historically black colleges with the Civil Rights movement's struggles against racism and segregation. Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Bob Love, Dick Barnett, Al Attles, Bob Dandridge, Sonny Hill, Ben Jobe and many others who played and/or coached at historically black colleges tell their stories. ESPN2 will be reairing at least a portion of the four hours on March 25. As the saying goes, check your local listings. Meanwhile, here are some highlights for those of you who missed it:

***If you think that Mike D'Antoni, Steve Nash, Don Nelson and/or Magic Johnson's Showtime Lakers invented fast break basketball then you need learn about Hall of Famer John McLendon. Basketball's inventor James Naismith was McLendon's mentor and Naismith said that he hated to see kids playing basketball at just one hoop; he intended for basketball to be a full court game played at a fast pace with two hoops. Following Naismith's lead, McLendon preached to his teams that the ball should be shot every eight seconds (a precursor of D'Antoni's mantra of "seven seconds or less"). His Tennessee State squads utilized a fast break attack to win the NAIA Championship from 1957-59, making McLendon the first college coach to win three consecutive national titles.

***Jobe said, "Coach McLendon taught us to never use profanity. The coach never talks loud--and your players never use profanity or talk loud. If you can't communicate with normal conversation then you don't need to be on the team." Amen and wouldn't it be nice if someone had delivered that message to Bob Knight a few decades ago?

***Most real basketball fans know that Earl Monroe got his nickname "Pearl" because of a newspaper headline that described some of his college games as "Earl's Pearls." "Black Magic" showed that headline and the sidebar piece that listed those games. Here are Monroe's scoring totals and field goal numbers from those games:

13-20, 33 points
13-21, 30 points
29-42, 68 points
22-24, 58 points
8-15, 30 points
18-25, 40 points
18-30, 49 points
7-10, 23 points
22-41, 50 points
22-32, 52 points
16-22, 45 points
18-24, 54 points
13-29, 51 points

Monroe averaged 41.5 ppg in 1966-67 while shooting .607 from the field--and, no, those are not typos. He led Winston-Salem State to the NCCA College Division championship, scoring 40 points in the championship game; the dribbling display that he put on at the end of the title game to run out the clock would put "Hot Sauce" to shame--and Monroe did not travel, commit any violations or throw the ball off of someone's forehead.

***Earl Lloyd, the first black player to play in the NBA, was a scout for the Detroit Pistons when Monroe was creating his "pearls" for Winston-Salem. Lloyd told the Pistons to draft Monroe but the team's executives were skeptical that a player from a historically black college could really be that good. They drafted Jimmy Walker (Jalen Rose's father) instead. The expression of exasperation/disbelief that is on Lloyd's face when he retells this story (you can see this at around the 20th minute of Part II) is priceless. Walker turned out to be a pretty good pro who made the All-Star team a couple times but Monroe is a Hall of Famer and one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.

***Richard "Pee Wee" Kirkland declared that skill at anything is a God-given gift and while there is no doubt a lot of truth to that it is also true that to become great you have to work really, really hard. Psychologists call this "effortful study." Monroe said that he practiced shooting for so long when he was young that his shoulders became hunched over and his mother would rub alcohol on them to soothe his aching muscles. A lot of people say that they work hard and they may even think that they do but few people really understand just how hard you have to work to truly achieve greatness.

***Monroe said, "Once I started playing, I made a list of the guys who really dogged me and as I got better I checked them off the list."

***Most of the Monroe anecdotes were interesting but I had heard them before. However, I did not know that Monroe, like Hakeem Olajuwon and Steve Nash, was a very good soccer player. In their own ways, Monroe, Olajuwon and Nash are three players who have some of the best footwork and balance in basketball history.

***Clarence "Big House" Gaines, Monroe's college coach, preached a simple motto to his teams: "Kill, kill, kill"--in other words, always be aggressive and attack. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady and Bobby Fischer would have loved to play for Gaines.

***Near the end of Part II, Lloyd said, "Black folks are the most forgiving and nicest people on this Earth. I said, 'What could we have possibly done to deserve the kind of treatment we are getting?' It's a tough question to answer truthfully. One person said to me, 'Well, the Lord will test you.' I said, 'I understand that but 200 years is a long time to be tested. I wish somebody would tell me if I passed or flunked this test.'"


Anonymous said...

My Dad catched the last half of "Black Magic" and was gleming. He requested me to supply an immediate copy of this show and while in search of this I came across your page which is very expressive and for a better word enjoyable. Thanks for the published blog and if you can add an insite to how I can obtain a video clip of the entire "Black Magic" show then you would make my Fathers YEAR. Stefanie from Mesa Arizona

David Friedman said...


I would think that a DVD of the entire show would be made available in retail stores at some point but for now the only thing I can suggest is to watch (or TIV0/tape) the re-air on March 25 on ESPN2. Check your TV listings to confirm exactly what time it is being shown. I think that the re-air is only 2.5 hours, compared to four hours in the original two part broadcast.

ESPNblackmagic.secondthought.com has more information about the program and some video clips but I don't see any information about ordering a copy of the entire show.