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    Michael Beasley warming up to play in Gunnin' For That #1 Spot. in Gunnin' For That #1 Spot
    Michael Beasley warming up to play in "Gunnin' For That #1 Spot."

    Rim reality

    "Gunnin' For That #1 Spot" is an indulgent documentary that contributes to the overhyping of high school basketball. . . . Mmmm, basketball. Me like basketball.


    There's a right way and a wrong way to see "Gunnin' For That #1 Spot."

    Directed by: Adam Yauch.
    Featuring: Jarryd Bayless, Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Donte Greene, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Love, Kyle Singler, Lance Stephenson.

    Related links: Official site
    The right way: In the Magic Johnson Cinema.

    The wrong way: At the Sunday-morning matinee, without a single other person in the theater.


    I can only imagine the ecstatic howls that probably accompany this movie when the theater is packed with fans on Saturday night. Yeah, that must be awesome. But as it is, I'll have to limit my comments to the movie and the basketball rather than the full experience.

    "Gunnin' For That #1 Spot," made by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (aka "MCA"), follows eight of the 24 participants in the "Elite 24" competition at Harlem's justly famous Rucker Park, the emotional heart of the basketball world. It comes out at a fortuitous time, just as four of the high-school phenoms featured here have been drafted into the NBA. (I spotted more NBA-bound names in the credits, but they weren't profiled.)

    Brandon Jennings flies through the lane. in Gunnin' For That #1 Spot  
    Brandon Jennings flies through the lane.
    Clearly, the best — and most obnoxious — player on the court is future Miami Heat all-star Michael Beasley, a total jerk who won't shut up. Oops, I meant to say a natural athlete who can't be stopped. He spends as much time trying to piss off opponent Kevin Love with his mouth as he does scoring at will on the court.

    Contrast him with his teammate Jerryd Bayless, who shares game-MVP honors with him even though he's quintessentially calm and doesn't put up a big personal highlight reel. An educated prediction about these two guys' coming careers — Bayless is going to be in the NBA Finals with the Portland Trail Blazers in the next few years, while the Miami Heat scramble to get their team chemistry together around Beasley.

    There's a reason why Beasley is the star of this show, besides just sheer talent. He's in tune with the whole ethic of the event, and of basketball today. It's about ego and adulation. It's about going 1-on-1, or even 1-on-5, to get yourself the glory. And the movie feeds that ethic, at least to a point. It's about hyping the individuals, not playing as teams.

      Michael Beasley vs. Donte Greene. in Gunnin' For That #1 Spot
      Michael Beasley vs. Donte Greene.
    And before I move on, can I just say this — I am sick of dunks. Dunks were radical in 1965. They are ordinary today. If my grandma were 6-foot-6, she'd be dunking in her grave. Big deal. Dunks are the lazy-man's highlight, and this movie is stuffed with them.

    On the other hand, the no-look, behind-the-back, between-the-legs, threaded-through-the-defenders pass is a killer play, plus it's team-minded, and it's always going to be damn cool. We do get a few really spectacular passes in the film — and one of them is even made by a big 6-foot-9 forward, multisport savant Kyle Singler, who's now at Duke.

    But most of the super moves and passes came from my favorite player in the movie, Brandon Jennings. This kid, who's a year away from the NBA, is the Brazilian soccer forward of basketball players — he doesn't dribble the ball, he sambas with it. I am PSYCHED to see him play in the pros — he's going to be something totally new.

    But wait — should I really be psyched? About watching ill-prepared teenagers in the jaws of much-too-early fame and corporate manipulation? Probably not. And the movie gets serious for a few minutes, making a little nod — a quick head fake, I should say — at addressing this issue.

    "You're treated like a star before you're really a star," one observer says, criticizing the whole high-school-and-younger ranking industry. "The PR comes much too soon. I mean, who cares if you're the best fifth-grader?"

    Kevin Love and Kyle Singler at the famous Rucker Park court in New York. in Gunnin' For That #1 Spot  
    Kevin Love and Kyle Singler at the famous Rucker Park court in New York.
    I don't actually want to contribute to the obsessive-compulsive disorder that is young people's quasi-pro athletics — but hey, I love basketball. I watched these amazing players, and I liked it. I like the style, the improvisation, the anticipation that somebody, even a teenager, is always about to do something amazing. Call me part of the problem. Fine.

    Then the movie and I are both part of the problem. "Gunnin' For That #1 Spot" isn't really a good documentary, in the sense that it tosses a few real issues up in the air but fails to slam them home. Yauch isn't truly interested in the problems and personalities nearly as much as he just wants to watch some basketball.

    And the basketball is pretty good — you should totally see it. But I don't think the best way to see the movie is in any theater, at any time, in 2008. The best time to see it will be in about five years. When Michael Beasley is gunning for that MVP award and Jerryd Bayless is gunning for championships, this is going to be a terrific blast from the past.

    JUNE 29, 2008

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