Screens Bouncing balls

One son's bittersweet look at the Harlem Globetrotter father who traveled between two families

Mel Davis played with the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1960s, when the Trotters were something more than the preening basketball clowns they've become over the years. This was an era when the NBA was staid and disciplined, before Connie Hawkins, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan brought jazzy improvisation and open-court creativity to the professional game. At the time, if you wanted to find those elements on a basketball court, the Trotters were your best bet.

Hardwood deals not with Harlem Globetrotters coach Mel Davis' life on the court, but instead with his personal life, complicated by interracial marriage, and the two sons he raised in different families.

An intriguing film could be made about Davis' tenure with the Globetrotters, but that's not the film his son, Hubert, chose to make with Hardwood. This film makes it clear that basketball defines the elder Davis' life, and it's where his most humane qualities shine. But Hardwood grapples with Davis' life off the court and the two damaged families for which he served as a distant, often unfathomable patriarch. While on the road in the '60s, Mel fell in love with a white woman from Vancouver, but the overwhelming societal obstacles facing interracial couples at the time led him to break off the relationship and marry an African-American woman, with whom he had a son. Along the way, he rekindled his relationship with the Vancouver woman and fathered Hubert with her.

The film revolves around Mel's two sons: half-brothers who probably should resent each other, but instead forge a bond around their shared childhood pain. Hubert's half-brother suffered the deeper pain, watching his parents fight repeatedly and eventually losing his father when Mel chose to move in with his Vancouver family. By leaving one family and relocating to Canada, he transformed the adolescent Hubert's life for the better, but traumatized his other son.

POV: Hardwood

10pm Tue, Aug 16
KLRN Channel 9
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Mel emerges as a paradoxical character: a man haunted by the father he never knew, and acutely aware that he committed some of the same mistakes his father made; a seemingly mild-mannered individual who nonetheless frightened his young sons; a dedicated basketball educator who molded many young players but created dysfunction and disruption within his two families. For all of the anguish it exposes, however, Hardwood is ultimately redemptive because Mel recognizes his shortcomings as a father, and because his sons learn to see Mel through the eyes of the young basketball players who love him.

For these three battle-scarred men, the hardwood is not a forum for athletic glory, but a place to exorcise their lingering demons.

By Gilbert Garcia


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