Where streetball was born!
In 1946, a New York City employee had a simple dream: to give inner city kids a chance to play their favorite game (basketball) all year long while simultaneously keeping them away from drugs and crime. He devised a tournament at the Harlem park he worked at to provide that positive alternative to street life. Today, the Entertainer's Basketball Classic is a Big Apple tradition, drawing the best amateur as well as professional athletes from around the country to play in its nine-week expression of charisma, competitiveness, and community, all in the heart of uptown at 113th Street. Spotlighted in films like Above the Rim and Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault, the EBC has become big business, drawing corporate sponsorship and international recognition, but it hasn't lost sight of its humble roots. Winning is still a matter of team pride for both the players and their "ownership." Highlights of this annual event were featured in the 2001 DVD release Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park. Now comes a sequel of sorts, another compilation of the 2002 tourney entitled Entertainer's Basketball Classic Presents Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park: The Second Season. It too offers a very razzle-dazzle review of all the competition.
But here's an overly crispy McNugget to munch on. When is a DVD packed to the parameters with features, extras, excitement, and incredible hip-hop semi disappointing and a borderline uncomfortable marketing shill? When it's the Entertainer's Basketball Classic Presents Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park: The Second Season. While seemingly just a distillation of the 2002 event, complete with best-of lists and interviews, there is a corporate aroma here that starts to turn ripe after repeated viewings. The numerous ads over the closing credits don't help matters much. Ignoring the commercial tie-ins and numerous multinational corporation logos in the presentation, however, you find this DVD is an honest, clean overview of the age-old tradition of playground sports, only a tad super-sized. Street basketball, in particular, is a pure expression of sport. It's all about game and who's got it. It's about integrity and practice. Unlike the pro athlete who seemingly prostitutes his talent for a mammoth stack of green stuff (and all they have to sacrifice in return is a piece of their soul), the ballers in the Rucker Park Classic are compelled to compete because the sport is really a part of them. It's an undeniable aspect of their heritage and neighborhood. For nine weeks every summer, the streets of Harlem vibrate with the raw energy and unbridled joy of people playing basketball for the love of the game, not for the want of a paycheck. The EBCPEBCARPTSS DVD champions this athleticism over avarice (and advertising) in a truly startling fashion. But since this is nothing more than a highlight reel set to rap tunes, we learn nothing about the customs or problems involved with running this tournament.
We do get to see some impressive acts of physical skill and grace, as well as being introduced to a real rogue's gallery of participants. One of the most intriguing characters on the court (and the DVD) is a ball dribbling and handling wunderkind named Bone Collector who seems to defy logic, gravity, and physics with his laconic ability to misdirect and redirect the rock any way he wants. Just watching him throw the basketball between an opponent's legs, only to have it magically somehow end up behind his back, underscores the sheer technical polish and athletic ability this guy has. As he says, he doesn't know how he does it, but he just does. And you too will be confused and amazed. Also interesting is rapper Fat Joe. Not only is he the owner of the champion Terror Squad, but he is a famous hip-hop artist as well. It would have been nice to get some insight from him into the game, his introduction to the Classic, and why he now assumes a role in ownership (whatever "owning" means—it's never explained). And this is the problem with EBCPEBCARPTSS. It is not a documentary, so presenting us the facts and background of what is going on here is not mandated or even conceived of. This is a show off reel, a moving digital memento of a seasonal ritual, along with a cursory glance at some of the people who participate and make it happen. Frankly, there could be a lot less about Kobe Bryant and the rest of the NBA hot shots who play and the presentation would not suffer. But name value sells discs and these superstars are convincingly sincere about how much the Classic means to them. While more history and context would have been nice, what is offered here is incredibly entertaining.
Shot mostly on digital and analog video, EBCPEBCARPTSS the DVD offers a very nice, very crisp full screen image. There is no flaring, excellent color correction/definition, and a very crisp, very detailed transfer. There are a few scenes specked with grain, but it is obviously from the source material (an inferior camera, most likely) and not in the mastering. Even better is the Dolby Digital Stereo, which accentuates the unbelievable rap and hip-hop score for all its phat beat, intricately orchestrated badness. The music here is first rate and offers direct commentary on the game, the competitors involved and the community supporting this tournament tradition (for added value, the DVD comes with a four track CD sampler of the Across 155th Street Soundtrack album coming out the summer of 2003) Other extras include a lesson in elementary street basketball featuring two superstars of the classic, Prime Objective, and Whole-Lotta-Game. We also get a top ten dunks and top ten plays featurette showing some of the best moves from the competition in multi-angled astonishment. Unfortunately, the Championship Game featurette is truncated, stressing individual plays instead of the overall contest. Before we know it, the victory is signed, sealed, and delivered to the Terror Squad. And this is typical of Entertainer's Basketball Classic Presents Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park: The Second Season. Any chance to get in-depth and detailed about the cult of street hoops is circumvented for more jump cuts of jump shots. While this disc is recommended, it could have been more. It could have been a tribute to the spirit of the tournaments founder, instead of a slickly produced souvenir of the event. It's still an amazing document of fantastic sports theater.
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