When I first heard that ESPN was launching this ambitious effort, I couldn’t believe it. This was not to be a typical sports series that attempted to cover all the bases of what has happened in the world of sports in the last thirty years. I love the idea that ESPN wanted to work with independent filmmakers with the goal being to make films, not just smart journalism, about subjects that the filmmakers care passionately about. That’s why they responded so strongly to my idea: To go back to my hometown of Hampton and revisit a pivotal moment not just in that city’s sports history, but in it’s social and racial history as well. Sixteen years ago, Allen Iverson was a junior at Bethel High School when he became involved in a racial bowling-alley brawl. That incident and the subsequent trial became Hampton’s “O.J. Trial,” dividing the city largely along racial lines and bringing the issue of race into the public arena for perhaps the first time in the city’s history.
As a native of Hampton who grew up and played high school basketball there this story resonates for me in very personal ways. My late father was a star athlete and inductee into the Hampton Sports Hall of Fame. My mother (who still lives in the house I grew up in) became the school nurse the first year the city integrated its all black high school. ESPN really responded to the idea that I will make this something of a “first person” exploration, where I can also draw upon my own experiences of sports and race relations in the course of the film. Ultimately, I want to revisit what happened sixteen years ago so I can learn what the lasting legacy of it is for the city’s black and white communities, and for Allen Iverson himself. I hope this film says something not just about race and sports, but race and American society at this particular moment in our history.