The Legend of Swee’ Pea


(2015) Sports Documentary (1091) Lloyd Daniels, Jerry Tarkanian, David Robinson, John Lucas, Howard Garfinkel, Geary Hendley, Keith Glass, Kenny Graham, Leo James, Ernie Hall, Saul Lerner, Lois Tarkanian, David Chesnoff, Ron Naclerio, John Valenti, Ramon Ortiz, Jabari Joyner, Robbito Garcia, Alvis Brown, Avery Johnson, Benjamin May, Tom Kancholosky, Anita Hendley. Directed by Benjamin May

 

Every so often a basketball player comes along who is considered can’t-miss; they are recruited heavily out of high school by the biggest college programs in the sport and some go on to long, productive careers in the NBA; guys like LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had those kinds of career. And then, there is Lloyd Daniels.

Daniels is a New York playground legend. At 16, he was considered one of the best basketball players in the world – including in the NBA. His mom died when he was a child; he spent most of his time being shuttled between one grandmother in Queens and another in Brooklyn. His father, who never recovered from his wife’s death, sank into alcoholism. Eventually, Lloyd joined him in alcohol abuse at a young age, and went on to get addicted to crack just as it became epidemic in New York.

Lloyd liked to party but he didn’t particularly like going to class and almost never went. One thing not explained in the documentary is how he was allowed to play basketball when he wasn’t attending class. In my day, you couldn’t participate in extracurricular athletics if you didn’t maintain at least a “C” average, but New York in the Nineties might have been different. In any case, Daniels is dyslexic which may explain his ambivalent attitude towards school. However, one thing he was serious about was basketball and he was a 6’7” guard who could pass AND shoot, a rarity. Lots of coaches were foaming at the mouth trying to get him into their programs. He eventually aged out of high school without graduating or passing a single course.

He wound up being accepted to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas on a scholarship. The Running Rebels were coached by the legendary Jerry Tarkanian who were always one of the favorites to win the NCAA title back then. But his college career was derailed before he’d even played a single game; he was arrested in a crack house on a police sting operation on February 9, 1987 and Tarkanian threw him off the team. With a drug arrest in his portfolio, he essentially became untouchable. Also not mentioned in the documentary was the involvement of Richard Perry, a noted gambler who helped steer Daniels to UNLV and the ensuing investigation of whom would lead to Tarkanian being forced out as coach of their team.

Las Vegas lawyer David Chesnoff thought he got a raw deal and helped him get into the Continental Basketball Association with the Topeka Sizzlers. However, his addiction followed him and he was dropped from the team. Going back to New York City, he resumed smoking crack and after trying to rip off some drug dealers of an $8 vial of crack, was shot three times in the chest. He actually died, but was saved by skilled surgeons and lived to play again.

This time it was Coach Tarkanian who came calling; now with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Daniels, given a second chance, started to look like he deserved one. He was showing signs of the skills that had made him one of the most highly sought-after recruits of his generation. Unfortunately, the Spurs weren’t doing all that well as a team and Tarkanian was let go. When John Lucas, a recovering addict himself, was made coach, he saw some disturbing signs in Daniels. Eventually, after a two year stay with San Antonio – the longest of his professional career, he was let go and ended up playing with a myriad of teams, six in the NBA finishing just seven games shy of being vested in the player’s pension program.

These days, Daniels is an AAU coach in New York. In middle age, he bears a striking resemblance to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. His voice is raspy from years of smoking crack. He is divorced, and while his three kids are all college graduates, he frankly gives credit to his ex-wife. Former radiologist-turned-filmmaker Benjamin May got the opportunity to film Daniels; at times he seems to be a very willing subject, opening up about his addictions and what they cost him. We see him visiting the house where he was arrested in 1987, where the wheels began to fall off on his life and career. Tears come to his eyes when he thinks about that cost.

While he appears open and affable here, there is the other side of Daniels. He is still drinking, which is why his ex-wife declined to be interviewed for the project. We also hear a variety of phone messages left on May’s answering machines of Daniels, wheedling for money and accusing him of exploiting Daniels. Eventually, the calls grow more and more angry and confrontational until they end on a conciliatory note.

This is truly a cautionary tale and shows how incredibly difficult it is to get out of poverty; Daniels had all the tools to have an NBA career that would have set him up for life. Sadly, he never got the guidance he needed to deal with life and his addiction would eventually overwhelm his talent. Daniels was failed by those closest to him, failed by the public school system, failed by society but most of all he failed himself. This is the sort of documentary that would have been perfect for the ESPN “30 in 30” series but sadly, it never made it there which is just symbolic of Daniels’ life in general.

REASONS TO SEE: A cautionary tale about wasted potential and drug abuse.
REASONS TO AVOID: The documentary feels a little bit scattered.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity as well as drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the executive producers of the film is legendary New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/16/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Without Bias
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Booksellers

Just Wright


Just Wright

Common finds that dribbling through traffic might be easier than acting.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, Phylicia Rashad, Pam Grier, James Pickens Jr., Mehcad Brooks, Michael Landes, Laz Alonso, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Bobby Simmons.  Directed by Sanaa Hamri

We all look for someone who will be the perfect mate. Whether it is a Mr. or a Ms. we hold every potential suitor up to a rigorous standard that insures that the one we end up with is neither too good to be true or not good enough, but is just right.

Leslie Wright (Latifah) is a physical therapist and a good one. She’s also a New Jersey Nets fan and a good one. She goes to most of the games to cheer her boys in blue on, along with her best friend and “godsister” Morgan Alexander (Patton), who goes to the games for quite a different reason – to snare herself an NBA husband. The lifestyle appeals to her.

At a gas station Leslie meets Scott McKnight (Common), the star guard of the Nets who is having issues finding his gas cap. Grateful for the guidance, he invites her to his birthday party (which is of course the quickest way to an NBA star’s heart – through his car). Of course, Leslie brings Morgan along who quickly snares McKnight with her little black dress and pretty face.

Leslie has also fallen for the handsome and sweet-natured ball star, but as usual she plays second fiddle to her more attractive, less plus-sized friend. However when McKnight suffers a career-threatening knee injury at the NBA All-Star game, it is up to Leslie to rehabilitate him under the watchful eye of his over-protective mom (Rashad) – and without the help of Morgan who has no desire to be the wife of an ex-NBA star.

This is as formulaic a rom-com as you’re likely to find, and there are plenty of ‘em out there. It does have the added advantage of Latifah who is as likable a star as there is today. In Last Holiday she showed me she can carry a movie on her charm alone. In this one, she doesn’t quite accomplish it. To be fair, she doesn’t have much to work with. Leslie is as written almost bland. Hamri fails to utilize the charm of one of Hollywood’s most charming actresses and that’s a crying shame.

It’s obvious that the NBA supported the movie as many of their stars cameo in the film. None of them are especially graceful in the acting department, although they are smooth and fluid on the hardwood. Patton is a terrific actress, but her character is soooo shallow it beggars belief. She’s supposed to be a decent, good person that in the end loves her friend and yet she stabs her in the back at nearly every opportunity. Does. Not. Compute.

Everything that is wrong with the modern romantic comedy can be found here; cliché characters, formula story, unbelievable situations and a distinct lack of comedy. This is a misfire that given the talent of the actors, should have been a grand slam.

WHY RENT THIS: Latifah is one of the most charming and warm actresses in the business.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is distinctly un-funny and Patton’s Morgan is so despicable that there’s no dramatic tension whatsoever.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some suggestive situations and a smattering of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lawrence Frank, the coach of the Nets at the time of filming, was fired 16 games into the following season and although he appears in the film, he wasn’t depicted as the coach.  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on Common’s basketball training; the Blu-Ray also has an additional featurette on the involvement of NBA players in the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $21.6M on an unreported production budget; the movie may well have made money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Youth in Revolt