By Ryan McNeill
This weekend I was fortunate enough to watch the basketball documentary “With This Rock.” This DVD is an independent release and doesn’t have the same flash or production as ESPN’s “Through the Fire” or the ‘90’s classic “Hoop Dreams” but it does an excellent job capturing the politics and corruption involved with basketball in Flint, Michigan. The DVD begins with a scene from the Michigan State National Championship ceremony in Lansing but the documentary quickly changes gears to show that things weren’t all positive in Flint in 2000. Between clips showing physical abuse by the police, shady business deals by crooked politicians to profiles of players who failed to make their mark once they left Flint, director Emmanuel White does a great job of shedding light on the fact that basketball has broken numerous hearts in Flint.
Through watching documentaries like “With This Rock” or “Flint Star” this summer I have come to the conclusion that Flint basketball players are so successful because they dedicate their lives to basketball in an attempt to escape their poverty. Because they have so much to gain through success at basketball and so much more to lose by not escaping Flint they are willing to spend countless hours honing their craft in an attempt to get a scholarship or to obtain riches through playing in the NBA.
A local high school coach, Greg Burks, backs-ups this belief when he tells White that “I’ve been to New York. I’ve been to Kentucky. I’ve been all over the country. I’ve seen and been around the best and I haven’t seen anything compared to Flint basketball players. They have a certain amount of toughness, a certain amount of drive that kids usually don’t have.”
It’s this mental toughness and desire to escape Flint that is something that either catapults Flint players to greatness or devours them. “With This Rock” does a great job of documenting how this drive effected the lives of Terry Furlow, Charlie Bell, Justus Thigpen Sr, Leon White, Roy Marble, Bill Harris and Eric Turner. This drive to escape Flint helped most of these local legends achieve greatness but it also resulted in Furlow’s life ending prematurely due to drug use.
While most of this documentary is dark and depressing there are parts of the documentary that show some of the redeeming qualities of Flint. One highlight for me was the way that Charlie Bell’s parents instilled the value of an education in their son. As children basketball prodigies are often coddled by the public and their parents. The problem with this coddling is when they don’t make the NBA because they are quickly dismissed by fans and “leeches” that had attached to them for the next big thing. This leaves these young men without an education and any way to sustain the flashy lifestyles they become accustomed to living. White was able to sit down with the parents of Charlie Bell for this documentary and it was clear that they had prepared their son for the fact that he might not be able to make a living as a pro basketball player. One of the things they stressed to Charlie since a young age was the need for an education so that he could support himself once his days playing basketball were over.
Another highlight was the profile on the playing career of Flint legend Eric Turner. While watching “Flint Star” earlier this summer Turner was a player that was mentioned but Marcus Davenport wasn’t able to dedicate a lot of time in his documentary to Turner. White was able to collect a lot of video from his playing days and he did a great job of interviewing a wide variety of coaches and former players about Turner.
While this DVD isn’t as polished and slick as Marcus Davenport’s “Flint Star” and tends to be depressing at times, it’s still worth checking out because it will give you some more valuable insight into what life is like within the Flint basketball community.
Look for an interview with director Emmanuel White on the Hoops Addict Podcast later this week.