The story of the 1939 Harlem Rens, an all-black New York basketball team who captured the sport’s first-ever championship, Abdul-Jabbar also traces the coinciding rise of Harlem, NY, as a cultural mecca – from athletes, musicians and thinkers whose courage foreshadowed the civil rights movement.
Celebrity and athlete interviews for the documentary include Bill Russell, Clyde Drexler, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Samuel L. Jackson and most recently Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright and seven-time All-Star Grant Hill. On Friday, the Phoenix duo filmed their thoughts on the impact of the Rens, as well as the importance of sharing little-known stories of such important historical and cultural value.
“The Harlem Rens’ story has to be right up there with Jesse Owens, Jack Johnson, Arthur Ashe and Paul Robeson,” Hill said during the shoot. “The only difference is that (the Rens’) story hasn’t been told. Jesse Owens and what he did during the Germany Olympics, that story’s been told. We know the importance of it. We know what sacrifices Jackie Robinson endured and about his courage. We don’t neccesarily know the story behind the Harlem Rens. We don’t know about all the other stories out there of what people have gone through that were significant and just as important as what others have done. We need these stories to be told.”
The documentary is expected to debut on ESPN in 2010.