Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Through The Fire

Illustration for article titled Through The Fire

On the most momentous day of his young life, Sebastian Telfair, the phenomenal senior point guard of Coney Island's Lincoln High School basketball team, strolls into ESPN Zone to make two important announcements. The first is that he's the newest member of "the Adidas family," having signed an endorsement deal reportedly worth $6 to $10 million. The second is that he's decided to forego college and enter the 2004 NBA Draft. These developments certainly weren't unrelated, though they get more insidious: In the months leading up to the draft, Telfair's stock dropped precipitously when scouts started fretting about his height (under six feet) and outside-shooting deficiencies, and many analysts were predicting he would get pushed out of the first round. Eyebrows were raised when the Portland Trail Blazers took him at #13, well ahead of expectations, and a former Adidas executive charged that the shoe company "arranged" to have Telfair selected earlier, because a late pick would greatly diminish its investment.

Adidas and Trail Blazers officials have vigorously denied the charges, but they're left entirely unexplored in Through The Fire, a documentary that seems willing to beg off the tough questions in exchange for access. By the time Hock and company caught up with Telfair, he was already a prep-school legend in the making, a lightning-quick guard who was well on his way toward shattering New York City scoring records. His senior season was turning into the sort of spectacle that had anointed teenage phenom LeBron James the year before, including several nationally televised games, swarms of NBA and college scouts, and locker-room buddies like Jay-Z. Hock never asks whether such madness is good for high-school basketball, much less Telfair and his family, which makes the film just another cog in the well-oiled Sebastian Telfair Hype Machine.

Too bad, too, because there are a lot of compelling elements in this story—particularly Telfair, whose boyish enthusiasm in the face of all this pressure is nearly as impressive as his blistering first step. An entire movie could have been made about his brother Jamal Thomas, a former college superstar at Providence who didn't get selected in the draft and now logs time as a professional player in Greece. Through The Fire posits Telfair's good fortune as the belated fulfillment of Jamal's dreams and his family's desire to leave the projects, but it rarely gives a thought to the many thousands of gifted inner-city ballers who devote their lives to a goal that never materializes. Call it the anti-Hoop Dreams