The weekend at Dallas VideoFest29 brought a bit of star wattage to the festival in the form of NBA legend and Olympic winner Spencer Haywood, promoting his new documentary entitled Full Court: The Spencer Haywood Story.
Directed by Martin Spirit, the film has been a labor of love for Haywood since his retirement from the league in 1984. His story, like so many other caveats of life and history that documentary films strive to expose, is a hushed one. Supremely relevant today because of his fight in the court system to allow him to play basketball after just a couple of years at the high school and junior college level, Full Court is a terrific film that charts the age old sojourn from dirt-poor existence to ‘superstardom’ before crashing back to Earth. It’s a familiar one, but one that sustained added gravitas by having the subject himself in the room.
Born in Mississippi and raised there with his widowed mother picking cotton by day and playing basketball by night, Haywood’s memory of that tumultuous time is vivid. While talking to him about the effect the previous day’s film, Two Trains Runnin’ had on me, he commented that he certainly remembered seeing the buses of the Freedom Movement rumbling through his town. He remembered their “smiling faces” heading into a hostile environment. He was witnessing history being made right in front of him, unsure of the impact he himself would have on history as well.
Coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement and quickly ascending to basketball mythology among high schools and colleges around the country, Full Court spends a lot of time on his early days. Establishing his uncanny ability, describing the support systems that were provided to him as he shifted from city to city along the way, and developing Haywood as the larger-than-life figure he was on the court is solidly built. All of which makes his eventual fights against the court, his dishonest contract treatment by the (American Basketball Association team) Denver Rockets and his slow dissolve into drug addiction that much more raw. Add to the fact it took the NBA so long to make amends and Full Court rallies around the idea that Haywood is one of the true martyrs with a happy ending. And what about all those players who’ve benefited from his fight to enter the league when and where they want?
“This whole history for the young players, it’s not their fault [that they don’t know the full story]. It’s been pushed down and avoided and now that we’ve done this film….. getting it out to them, then guys like Lebron [James], now they get it,” Haywood said. “Man, I thought you were just a dude that went to the Supreme Court. You were deeper than that. You were a baller.”
In between the carefully cultivated archival footage, Full Court has assembled an impressive roster of interviews, ranging from childhood friends and mentors to the cream of the NBA crop, including Charles Barkley and Pat Riley, who provide important outsider context to Haywood’s life.
Haywood calls the film a “spiritual” one. I tend to agree. Like the best documentaries, it begins with one thing and twists and veers its way through time, place and memory to reveal a much deeper truth, ending on an emotional beat that hearkens back to his simple roots in the Mississippi Delta.
“It’s been years sitting and waiting and if I stay healthy and God doesn’t take me off this Earth, it will come on God’s time and not on my time,” Haywood told me. It certainly looks like the time has come.
I’ll only say a few words on Anna Biller’s The Love Witch now, saving a more fleshed-out (hehe) blurb when it opens here in Dallas later this year, but its midnight time slot certainly suggests its cult status and actress Samantha Robinson is, like, the perfect embodiment of carnal treachery, perfectly sculptured cheekbones and all.