On the blacktop courts surrounded by wide grass fields as city parks sat in their rear is how many Prince George’s County hoopers got their start.
If you pull up around 9 p.m, be prepared to wait a few hours before it’s your turn on the Maryland asphalt. But even in the wee hours, high-beam car lights would still permeate the night sky and illuminate the court as hoopsters duked it out for bragging rights.
“You fought to the death, almost,” said Mike Jones, a native of Silver Springs and an assistant coach of Team USA. “Game point was going to take 15, 20 minutes. You were going to get fouled.”
Everyone from an urban city in America has a basketball-culture story similar to that of PG County — if perhaps a more mild story. I personally just had only seen folks out there playing with no type of light when the sun had gone down.
Anyways, the mecca of adolescent basketball flair resides on the eastern outskirts of Washington D.C., in Prince George’s County. Maryland is responsible for some of the largest names in the NBA, incubating players like Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo, Jeff Green, Michael Beasley, and so many others, including Len Bias. Since 2000, the county has produced 30 NBA and a handful of WNBA players.
Kevin Durant, an executive producer of the new Showtime documentary “Basketball County: In the Water,” set to premiere on May 15, takes viewers through the machine of basketball talent created in the county, hovering on the southeastern part of the state.
“I was like, you know, ‘He from home,’” Durant said in the doc of his interactions with NBA players from his home turf.
“I’m like, ‘Damn, him too.’ I just love to see that. We’re friends, enemies. Basketball to this county means everything,” Durant said.
“It’s in the water. It’s what we do.”
The film tells the nuanced tale of how black folks ended up in PG to begin with.
D.C., for many decades, was a heavily melanated city, beginning during the great migration in the early 1900’s — and following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. many of black residents in south east D.C. were pushed across the Anacostia River due to riots in response to MLK’s death.
On that side of town, no black neighborhood was spared, and folks of all economic backgrounds carved out new communities in Prince George’s County. Dating back to Duke Ellington’s era, Washington D.C. had established itself as basketball’s cultural capital. Edwin Henderson — otherwise known as the Father of Black Basketball — learned the sport from James Naismith in the early 1900s and had passed the sport along to the city’s black community. It was a way to achieve equity, through access to education by way of scholarship opportunities.
Like many black community leaders of that time, the goal was to provide a strong presence for young males in the community, while ensuring that the next generation would have access to social mobility through quality education. To a certain extent, this has been achieved.
Viewers are shown how the county, founded in 1696, has held on to its basketball crown for many decades, spotlighting its competitive blacktop scene, top-tier prep schools (such as DeMatha), AAU culture, and the enduring bonds between big-name locals like Durant and Michael Beasley.
“Ever since I’ve been playing basketball, me and K.D. have been best friends,” Beasley says, adding that he and Durant first met during a pickup game at a local community center.
The great thing about this documentary is the backdrop of the culture lingering throughout as various topics are discussed. But with a 52-minute runtime, to a certain extent I would have loved for it to be a bit longer, and that culture to be explained a little more in depth, with more local musicians — such as Rare Essence or Wale — speaking on it.