By 17 Sebastian Telfair had seen it all before.
He’d seen his brother, former Providence standout Jamel Thomas’ hoop dreams deflate like a true fiend’s weight back in 1999 when Thomas, who led the Big East in scoring his senior season, wasn’t picked up by an NBA squad.
By now we all know how Telfair’s story ended: 13th pick in the 2004 NBA Draft (Lottery status) and a $15 million endorsement deal with Adidas (family financial future cemented).
So what’s the purpose of director Jonathan Hock’s latest documentary “Through the Fire,” which chronicles Telfair’s last year at Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School before he became the first point guard ever to go from high school to the NBA?
The film, which premiered Sunday night on ESPN and dropped tuesday on DVD at stores nationwide is the story behind the glory.
“Through the Fire” focuses on the ever-illusive how, which is often more valuable than the what.
Bassy already had the name. He’s New York Knick’s starting point guard Stephon Marbury’s cousin.
But the boy who was crowned the prince of Coney Island almost since birth had to earn his fame. And that’s where this movie shines.
The movie begins with Telfair taking a walk through his Surfside Gardens housing project. He has been on the national radar since 13 and throughout the 102-minute flick he incessantly signs autographs and takes photos as if he’s already made it.
It’s that dichotomy that shaped Bassy’s world at the time. He had one foot in the game and one foot out.
In the city, he was a bona fide celebrity with folks like Jay-Z, Derek Jeter and Ahmad Rashad coming to his games. He had all the trappings of a superstar, but with an asterisk. On the surface he had already made it, free sneakers, fresh Rocafella link courtesy of Hova himself, and legions of adoring fans.
On the real, money was still a touch a way. He was still in the hood and still “broke” and whether or not he’d ever cash in on his potential all depended on his game.
Like his brother and assistant coach Daniel Turner said to Bassy before Lincoln won an unprecedented third straight Public School Athletic League championship in Madison Square Garden, “When the lights is on, it’s time to perform.”
And though it’s a movie about basketball and watching Bassy perform is captivating, there’s almost too much hoops in this documentary. It’s also supposed to be about life. And that’s where “Through the Fire” leaves a lot to be desired. There’s nary a scene in which young Telfair is in class or on his way to class, let alone studying or actually taking a test.
There are no interviews with any of his teammates, teachers or even his girl. Basically, this movie lets you know Sebastian Telfair worked damn hard to make it to the league. It’s a classic straight-from-the-hood-and-did-good tale. But by the film’s end, you don’t really know anything about Bassy that you couldn’t have figured out without watching the movie.
The film’s saving grace may be the unbreakable bond between him and his family, though they do make it seem like playing basketball is the only way for a young black male to become successful.
Bottom line, if you’re not a die-hard hoops fan, you may not want to check for this one. If you are, then you definitely want to cop that disc.
Contact Nick Birdsong at firstname.lastname@example.org