Tales of segregation, separation, and the achievement within these confining evils spun a magical theme of impressive athletes and engaging personalities, telling their stories on the hardwood. This is the impact of ESPN's "Black Magic," a documentary detailing the pride and history associated with black college basketball, and the pain that too often was wrapped tight with its players and coaches.
Black or white, we all can appreciate the trials and hardships that were vividly described in interviews, music and footage of the extraordinary talent that once graced the courts of historically black colleges and universities. "Black Magic's" moments of triumph included the stories of black college basketball legends like Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Willis Reed, and Avery Johnson. But with these successes, filmmaker Dan Klores also presented the stark reality faced by many black college athletic programs:
The dead appeal of black colleges among elite athletes.
Once, black colleges were the only resources available to students of color pursuing academic and athletic achievement. The careers of coaches like John McClendon and Clarence "Big House" Gaines were built on mentoring the sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of slaves and sharecroppers. The black colleges served as proving grounds for ability amongst some of the best basketball competition in the country, breeding grounds for cultural and educational awareness, and sacred ground for the all-important pursuit of a better life.
Now, HBCUs across the country suffer from dwindling enrollments, insufficient support from government sources and estranged alumni, and the overwhelming impact of integration and the big money machine that is college athletics. Even as we see startling statistics on falling graduation rates, even with the rise of global recruiting, black colleges have not been able to get solid footing on the sprawling landscape of recruiting and educating black athletes.
The dream that was born out of oppression has bowed to a new dream of diversity, inclusion and greater opportunity. Statistics may say otherwise, but contemporary higher education at larger universities across the country screams the promise of fame, fortune, and relevancy. Its yell has drowned out the quiet whisper of the ages coming from HBCUs. No one hears the steady steps of protest and agitation anymore, or the blaring horns of bands playing their hardwood gospel. All we hear now is the synthesized sound of SportsCenter’s opening theme.
"Black Magic" is up there with "Roots," "Eyes on the Prize," and any other contemporary cinematic production detailing African-American history, not because it comes at a timely period in black history or because it will lead a renaissance in black college athletics. "Black Magic" is one of the most important documentaries in African-American history because it removes the veil from the struggle of black colleges under the guise of sports. It is a warm-up to the quickly coming vanishing act that will be black college athletics.