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New ESPN documentary explores basketball’s impact in racial injustice, gender equality and other key moments of history

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ABC News(NEW YORK) — A new film series is exploring the impact of basketball — both on the court and off — and through the eyes of those closest to the game.

ESPN’s epic 20-hour documentary Basketball: A Love Story, from director Dan Klores and co-producer, retired NBA player Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, features the game’s most influential figures.

“It’s just such a beautiful story. Pro, college, women, Olympics, 62 short stories,” Klores told ABC News’ Nightline. “This is my passion, and I think it’s a passion of hundreds of millions of people around the world.”

The series chronicles key moments of history in the game’s past, including racial injustice and the Civil Rights movement.

“It’s interesting because during that time, you know, yeah, there were things in places. I mean I played in North Carolina in college and there were places that you could go and places that you couldn’t go. Well that was just the times. And you understood that,” Monroe told Nightline. “But as the older players, you know, we appreciate, you know, where it’s been to, where it’s gotten to now.”

The film also exposes the game’s rocky path to gender equality in basketball.

Growing up, WNBA legend Rebecca Lobo wished she had someone to look up to in basketball.

“I wish there was somebody who looked like me. I wish there was a woman playing somewhere that was on TV every week and was showing little girls how to play hoops. But that wasn’t life then, that wasn’t life in the 70s, 80s and early part of the 90s,” Lobo told Nightline.

The WNBA was a big step forward for the sport when it was founded in 1996 after the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team won gold in Atlanta.

“They hadn’t won the gold medal in the ’92 Olympics and so they put this team together with a year to train. But it was so much bigger than that. We didn’t realize we were a test bubble essentially for the WNBA,” Lobo said.

With the WNBA, Lobo was given opportunities she never dreamed of growing up.

“You know, we were making appearances, were visiting places. We were in commercials. This was all new to us and not something any of us had ever thought about because it didn’t exist when we were growing up it’s not something we ever dreamed of because it would have been a pipe dream,” said Lobo.

“The WNBA, it’s an experiment that has worked, and I don’t care. You got all these critics, ‘Oh they don’t play as well as men.’ They’re not supposed to. It’s a different game. Look what the WNBA has meant to the culture, to young women, to girls,” Klores said. “It’s all about a host of other doors that are opening and have opened on every conceivable level that give to people what they need. Pride, encouragement, hope and confidence.”

Those feelings are a part of what Klores said is a much bigger picture in basketball.

“There’s another story being told that’s a story. It’s a story about basketball being a global common denominator,” Klores said.

To Klores and Monroe, basketball is, most of all, a game of love.

“You can go anywhere in the world and talk about just a few things: food, God, music, sex, basketball. Basketball is the game of the underdog,” Klores said. “Basketball presents both sides of love. That’s what these stories do — much more, so more so than in other activities. The joy of basketball, the wonder, the embrace, the disappointment, the loss, even the betrayal. That’s what basketball represents. It parallels race relations. It parallels the story of the underdog in America and now the world.”

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