A veteran Black media executive once told me several years ago that seeing Black content outside of February—Black History Month—will become the new normal. Her vision and prediction certainly have come true, particularly in the past few years.
Because of a deadly virus and worldwide shutdown in 2020, I discovered the joy of streaming. I had known about it for some time and had watched content from some streaming sites from time to time. But whether free or subscription, Black content on virtually any subject can be found and watched whenever you want—especially sports.
Earlier this month, two new documentaries on sports luminaries premiered within days of each other:
“Stand” is a 107-minute documentary on Showtime, which debuted Feb. 5, that examines the life of pro basketball star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly Chris Jackson. He was born into abject poverty in Mississippi, struggled with Tourette’s (a neurological disorder marked by uncontrolled body movements and tics), grew up wanting to be an NBA star, and became one.
But when Jackson converted to Islam and chose not to stand for the national anthem, Abdul-Rauf became a pariah to the league, fans, and the media.
“He has never been afraid to speak up,” said Morehouse Professor Ron Thomas of Abdul-Rauf, as he introduced him at the 2017 NABJ Sam Lacy Pioneer Awards in New Orleans, which I attended. It was only my second time meeting the man—the first was during his brief suspension from the NBA when he was invited to speak at a local mosque—and both times I had a chance to talk to Abdul-Rauf.
“I thank God for all I’ve been through,” Abdul-Rauf told me in one of our interviews. “Growing up, I didn’t see myself with a lot of potential besides sports. I knew I was gifted athletically, but I knew I had to work extremely hard in order to excel.”
On camera, Showtime documents Abdul-Rauf’s life from birth to the present-day as the film tells the remarkable story of one man who kept the faith and paved the way for a social justice movement that he had such an integral part in.
“Bill Russell: Legend” is a two-part documentary on Netflix that premiered Feb. 8. I watched both segments in one sitting, one of the benefits of streaming.
Russell died on July 31 of last year at the age of 88. This season, the NBA permanently retired his No. 6, much like Major League Baseball did with Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.
Although Russell did not change his name or convert to a misunderstood religion like Abdul-Rauf, during his lifetime he did not shy away from challenging the status quo on the court in his 13 years as a player, and off the court—while becoming one of the NBA’s greatest players and winning 11 NBA championships.
Although I didn’t get a chance to speak with Russell—the one and only time I saw him in person was at the WNBA All-Star Game in Seattle—years earlier I did talk with his only daughter, Karen Russell, who shared her father’s rich story.
Both “Stand” and “Legend” are worth watching over and over, whether you are a sports fan or not. In addition, here a few more documentaries—in no particular order—worth watching, not only in February but any time of year:
HBO’s “Women of Troy” is the story of USC’s 1980s women’s college basketball team and how their style of play transformed the sport. (2020)
BTN—Big Ten Network’s “Passion & Perseverance: 1999 Purdue Women’s Basketball” tells the unlikely story of the 1999 Boilermakers women’s basketball team led by Head Coach Carolyn Peck, the first Black coach to win a Division I women’s basketball championship. (2019)
PBS’s “This is a Game, Ladies,” chronicles the 2000-2001 season of Rutgers University’s Scarlet Knights women’s basketball team, led by legendary Coach C. Vivian Stringer. (2004)
ESPNW’s Nine for IX series short, “Coach,” documents the personal tragedies and triumphs Coach C. Vivian Stringer has experienced in becoming one of college basketball’s most prolific and celebrated women’s coaches. (2013)
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