Taking their best shot
Throughout their innovative music career, the Beastie Boys -- Adam “MCA” Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz -- have rhymed about everything from angel dust to Abe Vigoda. As their fans know, one of their favorite subjects is basketball, and the band has kept up a weekly game since the mid-'90s. It was during one of these outings that Yauch, who also directed the Beasties’ 2006 concert film, “Awesome; I . . . Shot That!,” came up with the idea for his hoops documentary, “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot,” which hits theaters in Los Angeles on Friday.
“My friend Kris Stone and I were sitting on the sideline,” Yauch says, “and he started telling me about this all-star high school basketball game he was organizing. He then asked about how to document it, so I started throwing out suggestions. And I guess between his enthusiasm and me thinking about my own ideas, I thought, ‘I want to do it.’ ”
“Gunnin’,” which has been favorably compared to the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams,” follows eight of the country’s best high school players as they prepare to compete with 16 other top-ranked prep-school standouts in the first Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic. Unlike other all-star games, the Elite 24 didn’t choose its participants by grade level or shoe affiliation.
The first part of the film consists of hometown interviews with the chosen eight, including sure-to-be upcoming NBA lottery picks Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Jerryd Bayless -- and their inner circles of family, friends and coaches. The second half follows the game itself, which took place in 2006 at Harlem’s Holcombe Rucker Park. Known for being a mecca of street basketball, Rucker has seen the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Kobe Bryant (not to mention other pro legends) grace its asphalt.
“I get bored with organized basketball,” says Yauch, a Brooklyn native who considers himself a fair-weather Knicks fan. “I like the anarchy of street ball; just a bunch of guys going for theirs.”
Using eight high-definition video cameras that were placed in various locations around the court, “Gunnin’ ” depicts the participants’ gravity-defying moves in slow-motion and replays them from multiple angles. “I did that partly because it was fun and interesting to look at,” Yauch says, “but also because plays happen so fast that you don’t actually get to see all that’s going on.”
‘Celebrating these kids’
In addition to showcasing the players’ skills, Yauch also wanted to explore the intense scrutiny and stress that these young superstars-in-the-making face. But he was concerned that if the film spent too much time delving into the relationships between athletes and major sneaker companies or showing how online ranking services can affect the lives and careers of these high-school players, it could end up losing its primary focus.
“In early discussions, some people around me thought we could really dig up dirt about the sneaker companies and some coaches and how they were in bed with each other,” Yauch says. “But I definitely didn’t want to go the Geraldo Rivera route. I did want to show that their lives aren’t all glorious. But for me it was really about celebrating these kids.”
Most of the featured players have seen the documentary, and the responses have been uniformly positive. Beasley, who’s likely to be taken No. 1 or 2 in Thursday’s NBA draft, attended the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and said he loved it. Bayless and his brother were high-fiving each other during a viewing in Yauch’s Manhattan screening room. And Love, the Oregon native who dominated as a freshman at UCLA last season, enjoyed what he saw -- he got through about half the film in his L.A. apartment before he had to leave for a basketball workout -- but wasn’t thrilled about his physical appearance. “I look like the fat white boy from Oregon,” he says.
In addition to sharing the players’ passion for basketball, Yauch knows what it’s like to be famous at a very young age. “I was 21 or 22 when [the Beastie Boys’ 1986 breakthrough album] ‘Licensed to Ill’ blew up and threw us into the limelight,” he says. “But that’s probably nothing compared to what these kids are going through. Especially in terms of the money they’re going to make. Some of them will probably get like $50-[million] to $100-million contracts with Nike -- that is definitely different than my band.”
And it’s a band many of the teenage hoopsters didn’t know much about. “They’re all pretty much focused on basketball,” Yauch says. “And they were mostly too young to know or care about the Beastie Boys. “
With one notable exception: “I’m a big fan,” Love says. “I would sometimes throw on the ‘Fight for Your Right’ ring tone just to kind of bust him up a little.”