The confluence of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia has created a homogenous sports culture. It is rooted from the bedrock of a basketball foundation in PG County, Maryland.
This Friday, the new documentary titled BASKETBALL COUNTY: In The Water airs on SHOWTIME. The film is a collaboration with NBA star Kevin Durant and sports business executive Rich Kleiman’s Thirty-Five Ventures.
BASKETBALL COUNTY: In The Water tells the story of PG County’s social, economic, and cultural evolution through the lens of Durant, Victor Oladipo, Michael Beasley, Quinn Cook, Rebekkah Brunson, Marissa Coleman and many more.
THE SOURCE: For many, this will be their first time recognizing Prince George’s County, Maryland as a hub for basketball. Were you already aware of this unique sports community?
Stephen Espinoza: I never would have guessed or would’ve placed PG County in the hotbed of basketball. The unexpectedness of the reality of the situation is one of the things that appealed to us about this project. When you think about pick-up basketball or elite basketball players. You think LA, New York, Chicago. There’s famous playgrounds, famous gyms, well known high school programs and AAU programs, but nowhere on the radar did I see PG County until this project hit our desk.
THE SOURCE: Will SHOWTIME and Durant continue to tell the stories of the athletes that have come from Prince George’s County, MD and does this documentary answer to the question of why this area is a basketball hotbed?
SE: There’s probably several documentaries in this environment because it’s an area of rich history and a lot of different socio-economic factors that led to today. So it’d be a little bit simplistic to say that this one doc covers everything. But I think in terms of uncovering the political and historical factors which led to what we see today, I think that the strength of this documentary. Going back to Naismith through the father of black basketball (Edwin Henderson), through (Morgan) Wooten, through Martin Luther King, all the way through Len Bias, you’ve got a great sort of cultural snapshot in societal and political snapshot of all the things that combined to make this today.
THE SOURCE: Do you feel like this documentary also exposes Kevin Durant personally a bit more to those who might feel still that he is a little enigmatic?
SE: Kevin’s a fascinating personality. , He is in some cases putting himself out there very much so in other senses it is somewhat private. There’s no shortage of examples of him wearing PG County on his sleeve. He spoke about it the night of the draft and then you’ve got footage from various press conferences. Then there’s his iconic MVP speech, which wasn’t about PG County, but it was about growing up in the family that shaped him and the mother that shaped it.
THE SOURCE: Is this Kevin Durant’s coming of age moment as a storyteller?
SE: This is his coming out piece. There are projects in which we have big names attached and sometimes they are superficially involved, involved at the start and involved at the end. Kevin and Rich were hands on the entire way. From the initial pitch through all the notes, calls through final cut to, calling on relationships that they had. Whether it’s players in the league or getting IDK to do the film’s scoring and the soundtrack, there are a dozen different ways that Kevin personally contributed, in addition to his sort of creative input and the authenticity.
THE SOURCE: You have aided many professional athletes become multimedia content entrepreneurs or have been a part of their journey towards becoming one. Was this always one of your goals to accomplish at SHOWTIME?
SE: It was one of our goals and I think it has become one of our hallmarks of Showtime sports documentary films and that is allowing the athlete to tell his story in his own words. And there are trade offs in that approach. The first conversation we have with each athlete who is interested in doing a story that is partially or completely autobiographical is one about comfort and discomfort. And we say to them, we are going to push you into areas that you may not be comfortable with. And it’s for your credibility and ours. We’re not interested in doing puff pieces. We’re interested in doing things that reveal people, places, events, politics, history, sports, and again, not cataloging what happened, but explaining why it happened.
THE SOURCE: The intersection of sports and society is very intriguing and many of the sports stories showcase underprivileged communities. Is that a conscious decision?
SE: Yeah, we’re all sports fans and all of us at SHOWTIME Sports love good sports stories. But our mission is to broaden those stories, such that, every one of our sports docs will stand alone and appeal to non-sports fans. And the way you do that is putting sports in the context of society and showing how the two impact each other. In this case, I don’t think Kevin and Rich and filmmakers set out to make a political statement about it. But you can’t watch this doc and not come away with a sense that PG County responded to a very difficult time in its history, and the country’s history and that’s the crack epidemic in a way that in the long run will help that community immensely. The County and all the jurisdictions within it could have responded the way many cities did by criminalizing an entire subculture, an entire generation of largely African American youth. But what this particular County did was invest in youth centers and lots of youth centers.
THE SOURCE: We can’t help but mention the timing concerning ‘The Last Dance’ docu-series. Was that intentional?
SE: There’s always a bit of challenge with the scheduling. When we were working on this, we’re thinking, okay do you premiere this during the NBA season? At the start of the playoffs, after the playoffs, you know, you want, you want this to sort of bleed organically into the conversation about the NBA. But if we scheduled it, for example, during the NBA finals, then it probably goes a little bit under the radar because that’s all-encompassing.
So here we were sort of thinking about, you know, the end of the season started the play off. Basketball is very much on everyone’s mind and even if Kevin Durant wasn’t playing, certainly he remains relevant to the NBA. Now we’re in a different television world, a different sports world and I think this is coming as a hopefully a respite for some sports fans who are desperate for any sports content in the current drought.