Basketball fans will enjoy Adam Yauch’s documentary about some of the country’s best high-school players playing what amounts to a first-ever all-star game at Harlem’s famous Rucker Park in 2006—a game happily uncontrolled by sneaker-company endorsements and almost entirely free of college recruiters. The earlier part of “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot,” focusing on eight of the twenty-four top college prospects invited to participate, is a solid if surface-skimming introduction. But what the target audience will most enjoy is the ample footage of the game itself that makes up most of the second half—even though the coverage is so fragmented that it’s difficult to follow the swings in the contest and some of the camerawork gets awfully self-conscious.
Though the picture doesn’t delve very deeply into the character of the eight players, it does show enough to encourage you to sympathize with the less showy, more serious ones, like Jerryd Bayless, Tyreke Evans and Kyle Singler, and lose a bit of patience with the more voluble self-promoter like Michael Beasley. But they certainly all exhibit the speed and flair you’d expect of such standouts in the national rankings.
Another aspect of the documentary, though one that’s distinctly secondary, is a running commentary on the extreme pressure that’s put upon these players by the media, their communities and sometimes even their families. (Evans is perhaps the most notable example, but one can see the process at work in the case of Donte Greene, Kevin Love and Lance Stephenson, too.) But the commentary on the subject offered by Evans’ brother, and by reporters who criticize how the ranking process has become an over-publicized business, tends to the obvious.
Yauch’s style—he’s a former Beastie Boy, by the way—ranges from straightforward reportage to ill-advised attempts to jazz things up with fish-eye lenses to suggest the boys’ semi-amazed introduction to the Big Apple and flashy fast-mo and freeze frames during the game to increase the pizzazz level. It’s as though he didn’t entirely trust the material to engage you on its own—a mistaken assumption. The background score, with lots of hip-hop racket, can be irritating, too.
And the emphasis on the iconic status of Rucker Park itself gets excessive. It’s obviously a place that holds a special place among aficionados of the game, and mention of that fact is certainly appropriate. But here its iconic status is brought up so often that it gets to be more like a mantra.
“Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot” would be more at home on ESPN than the big screen. But B-Ball fans should enjoy it in either venue. And it may even move you to google these eight guys from time to time to find out how they’re doing post-game.