'Hoop Reality' gets dream postscript
Documentary film captures Beverley's difficult road to NBA
In the documentary "Hoop Reality," there is a scene in which then-Marshall High School basketball coach Lamont Bryant gives his team a stern warning about potential pitfalls.
"Y'all don't even understand this inner-city [expletive]," he tells a bus full of kids from Chicago's hardscrabble West Side, a neighborhood that literally defines "inner city." "Go to the wrong [area] and anything can happen."
Then he singles out superstar guard Patrick Beverley in blunt, controversial words.
"Patrick, your black [expletive] can't go to every party, man. 'Cause as soon as they see 'Patrick Beverley,' they gonna be trying to fight you. That's what they want, son. You are a role model, man. You can't do the same [expletive] thing that everybody else do. That's why I say it ain't about fun. Fun'll get your [expletive] locked up. Do you know the whole IUC team where I graduated from, you know, they had like eight guys from the city on that team, and ain't none of them [expletives] playing basketball no more! All of them [expletives] are on the streets hustlin'. Ain't none of them graduated, Patrick Beverley. Not one! Everything I done told you, everything, happened. It's about education, basketball and getting your family together, man. Pat, you got a big chance to go do something."
The beautiful thing about reality is that none of us ever sees it coming. Not even those who try to predict our futures and steer clear of the self-imposed obstacles that can permanently affect (if not ruin) our lives. And in the case of Beverley (one of the best basketball players to grace this city the past decade), the words spoken to him on that bus ride -- spoken to him before he was asked to leave the University of Arkansas after his sophomore year for academic fraud, before he admitted publicly to having had someone at the school write a paper for him, before he fathered two kids while still in school, before he went to Ukraine to play for the Russian pro team Dnipro Dnepropetrovsk to save what little was left of his basketball career -- came almost too late.
His mind was already past the life sermon his coach was delivering to try to save his soul.
But at some point, something must have kicked in. At least, this is what Bryant hopes. Because Beverley's life took a dramatic turn last Thursday night in the 2009 NBA draft. The world champion Lakers picked Beverley with their only selection in the draft, 42nd overall, and then traded him to the Heat. In Miami, Beverley might have a chance to compete for the starting point guard spot.
And this is the missing part of "Hoop Reality" that makes the story so powerful. The aftermath. This time, the kid from Chicago gets a chance to realize his dream.
"Hoop Reality" is the sequel to the legendary documentary on Chicago basketball, "Hoop Dreams." Arthur Agee, one of the two stars of "Hoop Dreams," decided it was time to complete his story. He'd heard about this kid who was at his former high school, basically doing the same things he used to do; a player who had the chance to make his hoop dream come true. Agee used the opportunity to turn the cameras on himself and his successor to see if history was strong enough to not repeat itself. To see if the dreams of West Side kids who fantasize about being the next Michael Jordan have a chance to come true.
The kid he discovers is Beverley. A lanky 6-foot-1 borderline prodigy who has more game than a preacher from K-Town. Agee knows the similarities between Beverley's and his own stories are eerie. He has seen this drama play out once before. But when he really gets to see how good Beverley is, Agee knows the kid has a legitimate chance to make it, and the only person who can get in Patrick Beverley's way is Patrick Beverley.
Bryant knows this, too. In the film, Bryant comes off as authentic as LV from Paris. As much as he and his staff are pushing the team to find greatness within themselves, Bryant knows he has a kid on his hands that, if handled incorrectly, could become another on the list of recent Chicago basketball stars who have screwed up their own futures by not capitalizing on the opportunities the game has placed directly in front of them.
As he tells his players, "Your destiny is in your hands, not mine."
As the film plays out, Beverley's basketball life unfolds: his battles with Sherron Collins, his matchup with Derrick Rose. In the end, it seems like Beverley will be every bit the equal of those two when he leaves the Chicago Public League. Although he didn't win an NCAA title like Collins did at Kansas, or become the No. 1 pick in the draft like Rose, Beverley was selected to the U.S. junior national team, leading the team in assists, tying for the team lead in scoring and tying Michael Beasley for the lead in rebounds. He was one of the top sophomores in the nation. Then comes the film's final act.
As we see Beverley leave Arkansas -- without revealing the reason why his college basketball career ended so abruptly -- it appears Beverley's story is destined to end in disappointment, just as Agee's did in "Hoop Dreams." Pro basketball doesn't appear to be an option. You can see Beverley becoming just another of the city's great ones who play in Pro-Ams and tell stories about how good he used to be on the court.
But when NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver called Beverley's name last week in the draft, Beverley's personal hoop reality looked more like the realization of his and Agee's hoop dream.
"The burden is off a lot of folks' backs," Bryant said a few days after seeing Beverley get drafted. (The coach has moved on to South Shore High School after being fired from Marshall just before the 2007-08 season; he eventually settled a wrongful-termination suit against Chicago Public Schools for $500,000 in early 2009.) "It happened this way for Patrick for a reason. It's a story that had to be lived; he just had to take the long road to get there. No shortcuts."
Bryant beams with pride when he discusses Beverley now, even when his honesty reaches brutal stages. That relationship comes across strongly at the end of "Hoop Reality," and it still seems to be intact three years later.
"Am I still worried or concerned about Patrick?" Bryant asks. "Yes, 210 percent. He's still going to have to be reminded [to stay focused] from time to time, because he's still a kid. The only thing I can say to him now is 'Take care of your business, because these doors in the NBA will close on you quick. This is a blessing, Patrick. Take care of this blessing.'"
It's basically the same message he gave Beverley on that bus ride in the film. Different words, same meaning. Three years ago, Patrick Beverley was too young to comprehend and heed the warnings. He hadn't been through enough.
Now he has been through his own personal hell. A journey that could change a boy to a man, an all-city high school star to an NBA player. The ball is in his hands.
They say you can't stop reality from being real. Especially when it comes to a kid from Chicago who is using basketball to fulfill a once-deferred dream. Patrick Beverley has been given another chance. All he has to do is decide what it really is he wants from the game of basketball.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com.