Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Lebron James. These names have been in the news of late for different reasons. One because of a revealing Netflix series, one because he died in a tragic accident and the other because he has become the spokesperson for the league when it comes to issues like Black Lives Matter and returning to play during the present pandemic. What they all have in common is that they are part of the discussion when it comes to naming the best basketball player ever. All had amazing talent and drive, as such they were under the microscope from a young age. Some are able to deal with this type of pressure and scrutiny while others aren’t. Talent isn’t everything.
This leads us to the story of Schea Cotton. A story unveiled in this film by director/co-screenwriter Eric Herbert (first film). The documentary attempts to shed light on an aspect of sports we don’t often think about in the pressure that is put on those with incredible talent even at a very early age. No thought is put into their well being or how it might contribute to the snuffing out of their dreams.
Basketball is a hugely popular sport in many of the larger cities in the United States. Especially the two hubs of New York and Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Schea Cotton was being heralded as the next Jordan. Born in 1978, legend of his unique combo of skill, smarts and power started to spread as he was in high school.
During the mid-90s he was considered the best basketball player of his age. He was dominant at both ends of the floor. Ahead of his time, he trained like no one else and as such had the physique of a man. Schea won National Player of the Year and was projected to be the number one pick of the 1997 NBA draft. Then everything fell apart.
Quickly a potential superstar, Hall of Fame type career fell apart. Before he even got to college, he fell victim to a shoulder injury and invalidated test scores. That was all she wrote folks. Someone who was a lock to be a star in the NBA never even got there. Tragic. He did play professionally around the globe, but fans in North America never got to see his talent develop even further. He never thrilled us with power dunks or swatting away attempts on basket in his own end.
Film shows how a combination of bad luck and how the monster that is the NCAA went on to destroy his career before it even began. The NCAA did not agree with the extra time he was given on his SAT, so they did not accept his score. At this point, he was set to attend and play basketball at UCLA. Their judgment came down the day before he was supposed to start. This was not the first time Schea had come up against the NCAA. In a suspicious move they had also investigated him due to a car his parents had given him. Seems like they were set against him from the get go. Systemic racism. From a sports body built on the shoulders and talents of young African American athletes. Would a white athlete have been subjugated to these investigations? I think not.
Here is one aspect I would have liked the film to dig into deeper. This idea of the fact that Schea was targeted because of the colour of his skin. An added layer to the tragedy. On why no NBA team tried to draft or sign him. Yet, you cannot be too harsh on the film because it is excellent in most ways. Really introduces you to the story in a clear way and allows Schea and his family a lot of time to tell their side.
Plus the real purpose of the film is not to really get into the racial aspect, but to tell Schea’s story and use it as a warning for young people. Young athletes. Telling them about the pitfalls of talent and fame. Advising them to have something they can fall back on.
Schea’s story is told via video footage and photos from the time. As well as an interview with him and his family – mom, dad and older brother, who played alongside him for a bit. Plus interviews with coaches, sports journalists, musicians who knew him then, and other basketball players who knew and played against him like Baron Davis, Jason Hart, Elton Brand, Tyson Chandler, Paul Pierce, Stephen Jackson, and Ron Artest. Plus NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss.
An excellent watch, especially for fans of the sport.
Available now on VOD and platforms like iTunes and Amazon.