LeBron James is a sterling example of how basketball can be a conduit to change one’s life for the better. Case in point: the three-time NBA champion and his partners opened a state-of-the-art elementary school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. And through his production company, Springhill Entertainment, he has invested in the journeys of a team of young black men in Newark, New Jersey, one of the murder capitals in the country.
Best Shot is an eight-part documentary that primarily follows Central High School’s varsity basketball team, Coach Shawn “OG” McCray and NCAA champion Jay Williams as they look to overcome personal issues and create bonds, build character and bring home a state championship.
While Hoop Dreams was the first major documentary to follow young NBA hopefuls on the road to superstardom, Best Shot focuses more on the team effort it takes to create not just elite basketball players, but honorable men. This is reflected in the shooting style of the series: we’re often given sharp and intense close-ups of the main subjects in their homes and on the court. Not surprisingly, most of the series is told from the students’ perspectives. They’re often introduced individually in intimate interviews within a studio-like environment and then shown together with their teammates. For the viewer, this helps emphasize their symbolic and literal induction into a family structure that processes and promotes interdependence.
Throughout the series, one can see McCray dramatically impacts these students' lives. Known for bringing together people because of his involvement with the Zoo Crew, a notorious drug ring that feigned community upliftment and outreach through various legitimate businesses, Coach OG somehow avoided arrest while the rest of his crew didn't. This change in luck is what made Coach OG want to turn his life around, leading him to coach at his former high school.
Duke’s two-time player of the year, Jay Williams, also has a story that gives a unique perspective the students need. As a New Jersey native, he knows all about Newark and can relate to the young men. However, he also knows the other side of their lives and aspirations: becoming an NBA athlete. Despite being drafted second overall in the 2002 NBA draft, Williams' career ended abruptly a year later when he was involved in a motorcycle accident. He blames pride and a need for a sense of belonging he missed while with his college team for the crash and since then has been able to become successful as a basketball analyst for ESPN.
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) August 7, 2018
In the pilot episode, Best Shot provides background on Newark’s current state as an economically depressed city, including a spotlight on the 1967 riots and the demolition of a highly neglected housing project called the Christopher Columbus Homes in 1994. By painting this picture, the series quickly puts into context the many woes that riddle the city from violence to joblessness, poverty and hostility against the police force.
That violence is just one thing that affects a lot of the players on their journeys. “I had over 20 friends that died, all by gang violence,” said Shaquan Clark, a junior at Central affectionately known as “Quan Quan.” Clark, whose brother is in prison, gets put on house arrest in the series, as well. Another student, Isaiah White, moved around in 10 different houses within a few months during the season. When his dad said he would try to get an apartment for them, White was hesitant because they didn’t know each other very well, saying, “He was locked up for 16 years, and I’m 17.”
Imprisonment, homelessness and gang activity, which several of the students say is rampant in their neighborhoods, can easily distract students from doing their best on and off the court. Nonetheless, Coach OG and his staff along with Jay display the care, discipline and accountability the young men need to stay focused on the game and to build their team’s familial bond. Williams even leads them all through a goal-setting exercise that he and his NCAA championship-winning team did while he played at Duke.
LeBron also takes some time to send the team and Clark, individually, video messages. He tells them, “You guys have an unbelievable mentor, y'all coach, y'all city...I’m just happy y’all allow me to be an inspiration, as well. Y’all keep up the great work.”
The series is a must-see and will have viewers wanting OG and Williams as coaches in life. The young men’s resilience is awe-inspiring. Seeing how they can overcome through the brotherhood the team offers them shows viewers the power of sports and passionate coaches, community, determination and drive to give students hope and help them overcome life’s many challenges.
Watch the first episode below: