basketball cinema

Classic NBA / Red hot and rollin

If you're 35-ish and you've fol­lowed bas­ket­ball, you prob­a­bly recall the virtues of the pre-David Stern NBA, the sim­pler times when cor­po­rate logos were inci­den­tal, local heroes more acces­si­ble, and the entire sport more tru­ly fan-friend­ly. Stern always talks about fan-friend­li­ness, but his NBA is a Prod­uct and the "friend­li­ness" seems as pro­duced as two-for-one chalu­pa night. Back in the day, a young Kansas City Kings fan could attend Kings prac­tices at a local high school (for free), and after­ward min­gle with play­ers like Ernie Grun­feld, Phil Ford, and Otis Bird­song. It goes with­out say­ing that most fans would take that over a free chalu­pa any night. Red Hot and Rollin recap­tures the sim­plic­i­ty and beau­ty of those times. Edit­ed by Matt Love, it com­piles a vari­ety of rec­ol­lec­tions of the Rip-City-era Port­land Trail­blaz­ers, and includes a DVD of a tru­ly amaz­ing doc­u­ment of the time — Don Zavin's Fast Break. Zavin's film is astound­ing in many regards. Pri­mar­i­ly, it's a bit­ter­sweet med­i­ta­tion on a lost NBA — the League before each play­er became a cor­po­ra­tion unto him­self, and before the entire visu­al expe­ri­ence of watch­ing an NBA became NASCAR-ized with lay­er upon lay­er of cor­po­rate logos. More­over, it's pos­si­ble that there is no team in the his­to­ry of the NBA that is as anti­thet­i­cal to Stern's NBA than the Blaz­ers of 1976–77: a small mar­ket team with­out a mar­ketable super­star, led by a veg­e­tar­i­an, Marx­ist, long-haired, Abe-Lin­coln-beard-wear­ing cen­ter who stut­tered when he was ner­vous. The form of the film could be called "ston­er verite." With a sound­track that is basi­cal­ly an extend­ed tabla jam, it's a doc­u­men­tary in the tra­di­tion of, say, End­less Sum­mer with the cru­cial dif­fer­ence is that it's unbur­dened by End­less Sum­mer's lin­ear nar­ra­tive and omni­scient nar­ra­tion. I won't give it all away, but it wan­ders through some amaz­ing­ly inti­mate glimpses into the Blaz­ers' ecsta­t­ic run to the NBA title, for instance … 

Walton rides up the coastThis is for­mer Blaz­ers star Bill Wal­ton on a clas­sic Fal­con rac­er. After the Blaz­ers won the NBA cham­pi­onship, Wal­ton took a bike trip up the Ore­gon coast, and scenes from this trip are inter­spersed through­out the movie. Again, could any­one imag­ine ANY cur­rent NBA star going on a bike trip alone dur­ing the off-sea­son? Where are the entourages and Escalades and hot­ties? It's also sort of amaz­ing to see an NBA super­star engag­ing in an activ­i­ty that non-super­stars find enjoy­able. Where are the strip clubs and casi­nos, the hand­guns and hot tubs? (You can't real­ly see in this pho­to, but the bike's col­or is Falcon's tell-tale pow­der blue. Awe­some.)

Doctor Jack pantsYes, this is Dr. Jack Ram­say, and yes, his pants appear to be some kind of psy­che­del­ic red-white-and-blue crazy quilt. Look out, Lar­ry Brown.

Walton is mobbedThis is actu­al­ly the third time in the movie that Bill Wal­ton end­ed up in a mosh-pit of fans. The fact that this would nev­er, EVER hap­pen today is part of what's so bit­ter­sweet about Fast Break.

Some relat­ed stuff: A clas­sic Time fea­ture of Wal­ton as a UCLA senior from 1974 called "Basketball's Veg­e­tar­i­an Tiger," a nice review by TrueHoop's Hen­ry Abbott (a Blaz­er fan) that includes a quick inter­view with some­one who worked on Fast Break, and of course, you've got to see this one: Walton's epic dunk over Kareem in the West­ern Con­fer­ence Finals. [YouTube]