I’m taking one elective course this semester, called Race(ing) Sports: The Black Athlete. It’s cross-listed as part of the Africana Studies, English, and Sociology departments, so for me it’s an interesting departure from the computer science, mathematics, and statistics courses that dominate my schedule. And as part of two additional projects for this course, I’m watching a variety of films about black athletes in basketball and football.

To make things clear, I’m not necessarily forced to watch these films. My assignments pertain to analyzing media, which doesn’t have to include movies or videos. But I just recently joined Netflix, and was pleasantly surprised to see movies there that fit my academic agenda and were completely captioned. (In related news, it looks like Netflix and the National Association for the Deaf have resolved their captioning dispute.)

Earlier today, I watched two films and enjoyed them both. If you’re a fan of the National Basketball Association, consider taking a look at these. Both are part of the excellent ESPN 30-for-30 film series.

1. Benji

Honestly, I never knew who Ben Wilson was before I found out about this film. Ben, who was from Chicago, never played college or professional basketball, but his legacy still clouds the city and youth basketball as a whole. First playing varsity basketball as a sophomore, Ben amazed spectators by gracefully blending excellent speed, agility, strength, and shooting ability. By the next year, he and his team were state champions.

At the start of his senior year in the fall of 1984, the 6’7” Ben was ranked the number one high school basketball prospect in the country1. Ben had a bright future ahead of him and likely would have earned millions playing professionally, had he not been shot and killed at the start of the season. Ben and his girlfriend were involved in a dispute with two teenagers, and one of them fired a piston twice at Ben. His gut-wrenching, heartbreaking story exposes the continuing dangers of gang violence in Chicago. And as a result, Ben will always be remembered for what he could have been.

2. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson

Every serious NBA fan knows about Allen Iverson. The 2000-2001 NBA season MVP, a four-time scoring champion, and an eleven-time All-Star, Iverson captivated fans in Philadelphia for his incredible scoring ability, his dogged effort, and his lightning quickness. Iverson also stood a mere 6 feet tall and weighed 165 pounds in his prime, making him the shortest and lightest basketball player to ever win the MVP award.

But there was a time in his life when many were not sure if Iverson would ever get the chance to play college basketball, let alone be an NBA superstar. In February 1993, Iverson and his friends were involved in a significant brawl at a bowling alley, where he allegedly struck a chair at a woman, among other things. What makes the brawl notable is that it was a racial; the white and black crowds fought against each other. Iverson and three other friends — all blacks — were the only people charged from the brawl. This film chronicles Iverson’s experience and incorporates the perspectives of other people in the black community, many of whom viewed Iverson as their hero.

  1.  To add credibility, the man who provided this ranking also played an integral role in starting the Nike-Jordan sponsorship despite Jordan being a then-unproven professional player. He claimed that Ben was among the best players he had ever seen, and would have played in the NBA.