Showtime doc ‘NYC Point Gods’ shines in NYC basketball style

God Shamgud.

God Shamgud.
Photo: Chad Gittens / SHOWTIME & Boardroom

New York’s standing as the “mecca” of basketball can be summed up in three monuments – all located off the B train between midtown Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn. At the north end is Madison Square Garden, the home of the Knicks, who have not attended the NBA Finals since 1999 and are perhaps the most chronically mismanaged NBA franchise of the past 20 years. At the south end is the Barclays Center, where the Nets relocated from New Jersey in 2012. Last season, the Nets spent 48 percent more money than the Knicks selling 1,000 fewer tickets per game, exiting the playoffs, and seeing their star player request, Kevin Durant , to be traded. And in the middle is “The Cage,” a cube-shaped playground on West 3rd Street and Sixth Avenue. Players flock from all over the city to take advantage of the foot traffic and the paid tournaments, making it the most popular sports venue in Lower Manhattan.

If the ends of this lane are shrines to billionaires, The Cage epitomizes what makes New York basketball so pure and often great: a city of more than 500 public stadiums, legions of discerning fans, and a host of local talent eager to put on a show.

documentary NYC Point GodsToday’s premiere on Showtime, it takes this talent pool as its theme, with a particular focus on point guards — the major ball handlers in basketball — from four of the five boroughs. (Staten Island is conspicuously underrepresented.) Director Sam Eliade and his executive producers, including Durant and his director, Rich Kleiman, assembled a line of hooligans killers to honor the generation of stars coming of age during the 1980s and 1990s, a time when they should have been Removing empty cocaine bottles from stadiums before games and shootings are a regular soundtrack.

This environment has spawned a type of playmaker that is tough, skilled, and dexterous in appearance. The stressful atmosphere at street ball in New York meant there were no false calls, so players had to take comfort from getting rough. The city’s cramped neighborhoods made handling the ball essential, and the sheer number of competitors pushed players to stand out, giving youngsters a chance to build a reputation that doubled as a deliverer. “These are the guys we protected,” says rapper Fat Joe in the movie.

They were also influential. Dwayne “Pearl” Washington of Brownsville was a one-man wrecking crew that put Syracuse University’s basketball program on the map. The dribbling action (a.k.a. Harlemite God Shammgod) — pushing the ball forward with one hand, then pulling it back like a yo-yo with the other hand while changing the direction your body is going — continues to be a barrier of width and has become the cornerstone of any skilled ball handler’s toolkit. Raver Allston’s journey from Jamaica, Queens, to the And1 Mixtape Tour and the NBA remains the archetype of how pro and street football was impregnated in the early periods, when basketball cemented its place as the sporting expression of hip-hop. Both models reward confidence, an agile mind, and a talent for improvisation. And both were beholden to the demands of the urban landscape, where an abundance of concrete and a lack of breathing room turned speed—quick words, quick wit, quick hands—into currency.

If you were watching basketball at the time, New York seemed to be the center of the bright universe. Not only was there a group of position players whose style was so well known that opponents could guess where they came from, but the first arena in the NBA in the park, where even non-Knicks like Michael Jordan (55 points) and Reggie Miller (eight points in nine seconds) they played some of their best matches. But if Eliade’s goal is celebration, his film doubles as an episodic elegy. The inescapable subtext is that the subjects of these lovable profiles are nearly all bald or gray around temples, and without their credentials listed as chyrons, you might mistake any other cities for letterman jackets reminiscent of their glory days. Even the film’s visual language, down to the fact that many of these players’ exploits are preserved in blurry video footage, steeped in age and nostalgia.

So what pushed New York off its axis and pushed it into orbit with us? There is no one clear answer – the movie doesn’t ask the question – but Nix’s problems are an obvious candidate. The frustrating effect the team’s run of mistakes since 1999 have had on New York basketball fans – from countless ill-advised deals and revolving door head coaches to the tragic period of Isaiah Thomas as head of basketball operations and plenty of old bad luck. – It had an effect. The speed with which he bludgeoned Julius Randle from savior of the franchise in 2021 (he said at the time “I want to retire as the New York Knicks”) to a despised scapegoat the following January (he was telling Knicks fans to “shut down” Damn’ after they booed him) captures how tired everyone is.

Meanwhile, it took the Brooklyn Nets less than ten years to attract the fury that the Knicks had earned over the decades. Three-star Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden ended up, it seems, just playing around. 16 matches together. Harden traded with Philadelphia; Irving refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, forcing him to miss last season. Durant’s motives remain a mystery, but his looming departure would cap the most disappointing run in recent NBA history. Your city can’t be the heart of the sport when your teams have a dystopian chaos that even good players hate to play for.

However, another reason may be more fundamental. If the declining importance of New York’s basketball courts owes much to the failures of the Knicks and Nets, the fact that the New York-born guards are no longer as envy or imitate as they once was, perhaps owes something to how the game has changed. As a Lakers fan, I’m not happy to admit that the best show in basketball over the past eight years has been in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Steve Curry and the Golden State Warriors dragged the game’s center of gravity into the three-point streak. Since the early 1980s, NBA teams have taken an increasing percentage of shots from the periphery, from 3.1 percent in the 1979-80 season to 35.9 percent in 2018-19. The steep rise has come easily since Curry became the centerpiece of the Warriors roster, leading the team to four championships while becoming the three-point league record holder.

His success changed the way NBA teams played. Many started trying to play like the Warriors. (None of them really worked.) New expectations about what a valuable player should look like are taking hold. In the past, you could specialize. Now more than ever, you took responsibility if you weren’t a small part of it all in front of everyone, fierce defender, shooting from downtown. New York point guards have traditionally been none of these things. Those interviewed for the film admitted that they were not known for their portrayal. (Blame unforgiving New York City court edges.) They are often petite — many of the players identified are closer to five-foot-eleven than by six-foot-six — which means that even if junior basketball has been known to grow strong defenders (It is not), its physical dimensions will limit it. What distinguishes them from others is that they handle the ball brilliantly. But even that has become to be expected for rookie players, regardless of their position, from base to front. Overall, the game seems to have taken over what New York City Rangers had to teach during the ’80s and ’90s and left it behind.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. . subtext NYC Point Gods It may be that New York is no longer the center of the basketball world, but that doesn’t mean the answer is to try to get it back there. Perhaps that means the basketball world is starting to look more like its cosmic counterpart: there is no real center. Instead, there is abundance no matter where you look.