It's hard to imagine the basketball junkie who won't fall madly in love with Adam Yauch's new documentary, Gunnin' for That #1 Spot, simply because it's a very sincere and admirably straightforward story about eight young men and their passion for the game. Sure, all eight of the high school basketball wizards have their dreams set on NBA fame, but at this early point in their career, these guys just enjoy the game that much. At this point it's not about money, contracts, or endorsements. It's almost time for all that jazz, but what's most important right now, in these formative years, are teamwork, dedication, and talent.
Easily the best movie of its kind since Steve James' Hoop Dreams, Gunnin' is a refreshingly basic affair: We're introduced to eight of the nation's finest high school basketballers, and then we accompany the kids on a trip to Harlem's legendary Rucker Park. It's there that the young players, most of whom come from very different backgrounds, will get together for the joyous experience of playing on a world-famous neighborhood court with some of the best players imaginable. Hell, what competitor wouldn't jump at a chance like that?
Gunnin' gives us a colorful dose of each teen's home town, background and family life, and the best moments of the film come when the players simply speak for themselves. Parents, coaches, and various basketball experts are tapped for some insightful material, but Gunnin' pretty much belongs to the athletic octet: Jerryd Bayless, Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Donte Greene, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Love, Kyle Singler, and Lance Stephenson. Refreshingly honest off the court -- and stunningly gifted ON the court -- the young men come from a variety of disparate backgrounds, which makes it pretty sweet to see them all brought together by a simple game.
If you're looking for an insider's indictment of the college recruiting process or some sort of glorified promotional piece of Nike, Reebok or Adidas, you'll be disappointed to learn that Gunnin' for That #1 Spot is content to be a slick, simple, and enthusiastic little documentary. If the movie is celebrating one thing above all else, it's how a little talent and a whole lot of dedication can allow a fresh-faced kid to follow his favorite dream right into stardom. I'm sure someone could do a fantastic "flip-side" documentary on how these young athletes are often bought, sold, and exploited for other folks' profits, but that's not this flick. Here we get about an hour of set-up, introduction, and insight -- and then we get a half-hour of playground basketball magic that had me muttering "wow" on more than one occasion. And I'm not even a big basketball fan!
But there are millions of b-ball freaks who will absolutely devour this refreshingly upbeat and colorful documentary -- plus it's got a few great tunes, a couple of solid laughs, some really excellent basketball, and several beautiful shots of New York City. Best of all, it shows a bunch of great kids doing something they really love. Even my cynical side can't take a shot at that stuff.