Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: First Basket

Jews played professional basketball. Who knew?

Oct 31, 2008

-By Lewis Beale


filmjournal/photos/stylus/44736-Basket_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

From 1880 to World War I, about two million Jews arrived in the United States, and one way they acculturated was through the new sport of basketball. On teams sponsored by settlement houses, labor unions and businesses, Jewish children learned the value of teamwork, loyalty and the two-handed set shot. Jews of this era became the game’s first stars, were legendary in the coaching ranks, and had a hand in founding the NBA.

But by the early 1960s, except for a coaching superstar like Arnold “Red” Auerbach, whose Boston Celtics won eight straight NBA titles, Jews were no longer much of a force in the game. Yet their early basketball history was important and meaningful, and it’s this story which The First Basket sets out to tell.

Beginning with the arrival of many Jews on Ellis Island, and their eventual settlement in ghettos on New York’s Lower East Side, director David Vyorst’s film swiftly describes how Americanized Jewish males, whose parents expected them to be scholars, soon picked up the sports ethos of the New World, and made basketball their own. The film is filled with first-person testimony from aged former stars, some of whom played on early incarnations of the Knicks, Lakers and Warriors. And it contains astounding factoids that seem to have been lost in the mists of time—like the fact that one Ozzie Schectman scored the first basket in NBA history (Nov. 1, 1946), or that coach Nat Holman’s 1950 CCNY team was the only hoops five in collegiate history to win the NCAA and NIT championships in the same year.

It’s all here. The popularity of college ball in the Garden in the 1940s. The late Red Auerbach, ubiquitous cigar clutched firmly in hand, discussing the early days of what was known as “Jew ball”—a style adapted to the short stature of many Jews which featured a lot of passing, ball-handling and cutting. There’s current NBA commissioner David Stern talking about seeing early pro games, and the history of the Philadelphia SPHAS (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association), considered the greatest all-Jewish team ever.

Filled with terrific archival footage, The Last Basket is engrossing and fun, but tends to go on a bit too long. A section about Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, which has won five European titles, could easily have been excised. And the doc barely mentions the most famous Jewish hoopster of today, much-traveled coach Larry Brown.

But these are only minor quibbles, for the film easily justifies itself as an important historical document which provides another link in the chain of Jewish America’s rich cultural history.


Film Review: First Basket

Jews played professional basketball. Who knew?

Oct 31, 2008

-By Lewis Beale


filmjournal/photos/stylus/44736-Basket_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

From 1880 to World War I, about two million Jews arrived in the United States, and one way they acculturated was through the new sport of basketball. On teams sponsored by settlement houses, labor unions and businesses, Jewish children learned the value of teamwork, loyalty and the two-handed set shot. Jews of this era became the game’s first stars, were legendary in the coaching ranks, and had a hand in founding the NBA.

But by the early 1960s, except for a coaching superstar like Arnold “Red” Auerbach, whose Boston Celtics won eight straight NBA titles, Jews were no longer much of a force in the game. Yet their early basketball history was important and meaningful, and it’s this story which The First Basket sets out to tell.

Beginning with the arrival of many Jews on Ellis Island, and their eventual settlement in ghettos on New York’s Lower East Side, director David Vyorst’s film swiftly describes how Americanized Jewish males, whose parents expected them to be scholars, soon picked up the sports ethos of the New World, and made basketball their own. The film is filled with first-person testimony from aged former stars, some of whom played on early incarnations of the Knicks, Lakers and Warriors. And it contains astounding factoids that seem to have been lost in the mists of time—like the fact that one Ozzie Schectman scored the first basket in NBA history (Nov. 1, 1946), or that coach Nat Holman’s 1950 CCNY team was the only hoops five in collegiate history to win the NCAA and NIT championships in the same year.

It’s all here. The popularity of college ball in the Garden in the 1940s. The late Red Auerbach, ubiquitous cigar clutched firmly in hand, discussing the early days of what was known as “Jew ball”—a style adapted to the short stature of many Jews which featured a lot of passing, ball-handling and cutting. There’s current NBA commissioner David Stern talking about seeing early pro games, and the history of the Philadelphia SPHAS (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association), considered the greatest all-Jewish team ever.

Filled with terrific archival footage, The Last Basket is engrossing and fun, but tends to go on a bit too long. A section about Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, which has won five European titles, could easily have been excised. And the doc barely mentions the most famous Jewish hoopster of today, much-traveled coach Larry Brown.

But these are only minor quibbles, for the film easily justifies itself as an important historical document which provides another link in the chain of Jewish America’s rich cultural history.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Food Chains
Film Review: Food Chains

Vitally important, infuriating exposé of the world of injustice behind the food you consume. More »

Monk with a Camera
Film Review: Monk With a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland

Enthralling and uplifting documentary about a man of the world turned monk, but one who effects real, inspiring change. More »

The Circle
Film Review: The Circle

Very strong, historically intriguing and important gay document is marred by intrusive real-life interview footage, which seriously breaks up the dramatic momentum. More »

babadook
Film Review: The Babadook

An intense, terrifying indie horror film with more on its mind than scaring its audience. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Hunger Games - Mockingjay Pt 1
Film Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Darker, less action-packed first half of the final installment of the popular franchise moves from arenas to rubble aplenty as Jennifer Lawrence’s super-heroine is called upon to serve her beleaguered and much-destroyed nation as propaganda instrument and leader. Fans of the books and previous two films get a less flashy palette here, but the engaging characters and strong story return to stir interest for the scheduled November 2015 finale. More »

Foxcatcher review
Film Review: Foxcatcher

Character is destiny in this masterfully controlled true-crime sports drama that will likely catapult Steve Carell into the Oscar race. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here