Shut Up and Dribble season 1, episode 1 premiere recap: 101


Shut Up and Dribble has a thought-provoking premiere.

With four words, Laura Ingraham sent a shot across the bow of one of (if not, the) most influential basketball players in the NBA today. LeBron James, in turn, took her words and turned it into a three-part Showtime series highlighting just how many athletes—specifically black athletes—have historically refused to “Shut Up and Dribble”.

James partnered with Showtime for a Shut Up and Dribble docu-series, hosted by Jemele Hill, to show just how historically incorrect those sentiments are. It starts with a very thorough education for anyone from a basketball expert to a sports novice in an episode properly entitled: “101”.

The series premiere opens in Oakland with footage from the June 2017 NBA Finals as the Golden State Warriors defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a championship that made waves as players said they would not be going to the White House as part of their celebration. It was borderline unprecedented since every championship team from the major sports has been invited to the White House for recognition with the President of the United States.

More from Showtime

The opening moments of Shut Up and Dribble quickly highlight the bullet points of what followed. Pundit theories that the ritual of visiting the White House may be dying. Steph Curry saying in a news conference that he simply doesn’t want to go. Donald Trump uninviting Curry via Twitter. James’ response in support of Curry, calling Trump “U Bum”. And finally, Fox News’ Ingraham, seeming bemused by James discussing politics, telling James and Warriors player Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble.”

After setting the backdrop, Hill and James kick things off by pointing out that in America, black athletes were only considered to be the workers. It is because of the black athletes who fought for something more than just basketball, he wouldn’t be where he is.

The rest of the episode discusses the history of some of the best professional basketball players in history, starting with NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell.

Highlights from his section include discussion of his contentious time as one of three black starters during his time at the University of San Francisco (1953-56). He was also told by his college coach that his shot blocking was not the right way to play basketball.

Clips of him demolishing a pre-season All-American’s shot attempts are amazing.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 15: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) presents Basetball Hall of Fame member and human rights advocate Bill Russell the 2010 Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House February 15, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to twelve pioneers in sports, labor, politics and arts. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The series also discusses Russell’s success with the Boston Celtics and him revolutionizing the game of basketball by introducing the fast break. His NBA tenure also saw him call out the commissioner for the racial quota relegating NBA teams to only two or three black players.

A primary highlight throughout the premiere of Shut Up and Dribble is how the media reacted to these players. When Russell became the first African American head coach in North American pro sports, a reporter asked if he can do the job “without any racial prejudice in reverse.” Russell responded with a beautifully simple, “yes.”

His section shows just how dominant and revolutionary Russell and his 11 NBA championships were.

Shut Up and Dribble then shifts to the legacy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, starting with his legendary UCLA career. It takes a particular look at how the towering Abdul-Jabbar was gawked at, the fact that the NCAA banned dunking because of his dominance, and how he was thrust into a moment where he needed to speak out.

Footage of Muhammad Ali speaking out against the Vietnam War and being stripped of his boxing title and criminally indicted lend weight to this segment. Some of the war footage used is painful, but the most memorable shot is of a press conference where (Pro Football Hall of Famer to be) Jim Brown, Ali, Russell, and a very young looking Abdul-Jabbar sit as a united front behind a table of microphones.

Abdul-Jabbar’s section also touches on the 1968 Summer Olympics and the raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand. Their careers were torn down as a result and the documentary makes it clear that there was a lot of pressure on what the still college player Abdul-Jabbar did.

Rounding out Abdul-Jabbar’s part is a moment where a young Abdul-Jabbar explains his name change from Lew Alcindor. It’s also a moment the episode takes to highlight the media struggling to adapt.

Shut Up and Dribble then shifts to the story of Oscar Robertson. Highlights quickly flip through Robertson’s great accomplishments (despite being drafted and playing mostly in small market Cincinnati) to get to him being elected as the president of the National Basketball Players Association.

Robertson’s outspoken nature is shown in clips of reporters looking to trip him up. Interviews with present-day Robertson shows he still remembers the sting of how he was treated in the 60’s and 70’s.

Robertson fought for an improvement to the pay and treatment of the players. (Remember, this was a time before they made millions every year.) This included stalling the merger between the ABA and NBA by suing on the players’ behalf, citing the merger constituting a monopoly, an anti-trust issue.

A clip of Robertson sitting in front of an all-white panel of congressmen is particularly powerful. (Robertson won his fight which led to the inclusion of free agency in the post-merger NBA.)

SPRINGFIELD, MA – SEPTEMBER 09: Presenters Bill Russell, Julius Erving, Isiah Thomas, and Alonzo Mourning react to Shaquille O’Neal during the 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 9, 2016 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

A discussion of the more stylish ABA game coming together with the more fundamentally traditional NBA leads to a discussion of Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s career. Video of basketball played on outdoor courts with no nets with people gathered in bleachers and rooftops showcases the attractive element of fun that basketball hard in players like Erving.

The reluctance of the NBA to fully adopt the most streetball-esque showmanship of the NBA coincided with lower attendance. It’s a time in the league’s history where it was speculated that people weren’t happy seeing so many black players—an interview with a fan at a game saying he doesn’t like going to basketball and seeing all black players really brings that point home.

This lack of excitement in the NBA is juxtaposed with the building buzz around Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird in the college game. The series plays out clips from their legendary NCAA championship battle and their subsequent drafting into the NBA.

The episode examines what it means that Bird was being dubbed “the great white hope” as he entered the NBA. It also discusses the emerging popularity of Rocky and the “working class white underdog” coinciding with the image placed on Bird.

The clips and commentary lend a fascinating layer to two storied franchises locked in an epic rivalry in the 80’s that had the undertone of a racial battle almost thrust upon them for the sake of revitalizing the NBA.

The show next takes its focus to news clips and talk of Detroit crime, the Detroit Pistons and star Isaiah Thomas.

The documentary puts the deeply felt struggles of Detroit’s population on screen and then puts up highlights of the incredibly physical play of the Pistons players. Announcers call the Pistons players dirty, Celtics emphatically boo the Pistons, and present-day Thomas explains that their team wasn’t going to go along with the marketing narrative that the NBA wanted.

As Thomas proceeds to point out, there were few African American officials and reporters at that time, making it so they would be viewed through a white lens. That lens is brought into particular focus as the series shows how one post-loss comment can spiral out of control in the media.

One particular moment that stands out from the fallout around Thomas is during a press conference where Thomas addresses a disconnect where white players were complimented for their work ethic while black players’ abilities are discussed as “god given.”

Next. Shut Up and Dribble season 1, episode 2 recap. dark

The controversy surrounding Thomas perfect final sendoff for a series clearly intent on showing the media’s role in racial discussions around athletes. Encapsulating the frustration of Thomas’ situation is a short shot of Thomas bent over with his head in his hand after an interview.

The episode ends with a tease. The racial division seen during the 80’s and early 90’s in the NBA needed a unifier. As Hill’s voiceover discusses this need, shots of pre-game activities in Chicago’s United Center are shown—lights going down, logo highlighted, fans cheering, just moments before starting lineups are announced.

Here comes Michael Jordan.

So where do you stand? Did you learn anything from this first episode of Shut Up and Dribble?