Eamonn Sweeney: American giants still walking tall
Hold the Back Page
Dublin production company Motive Television are putting together a very impressive roster of sports documentaries. Their excellent Man with a Mission, about the legendary Brother Colm O'Connell and the athletes he's trained in Kenya, won best sports documentary at this year's Irish Film and Television Awards, Batsmen, about Irish cricket, was an absolute treat and We Got Game, most recently broadcast on RTE last Monday, is their best yet.
Beautifully directed by Garry Keane, We Got Game took us back to that halcyon period in the 1980s when Irish basketball suddenly exploded into the public eye thanks to the arrival of a legion of top-class American players.
Irish basketball was a big story then with Cork city in particular being gripped by a fever for the game. The documentary heard the stories of some of the top American stars, Jasper McElroy, Kelvin Troy, Terry Strickland, Deora Marsh, Mario Elie, and it was a very nice touch to have the narration provided by another import of the time, Jerome Westbrooks, who's still coaching here.
It was a happy story. The tale of how a Team West official went round to see that Deora Marsh wasn't lonely on his first night in Ireland, only to find him down the town in Ballina playing cards with the locals, summed up both the innocence and the affection which characterised the encounter.
There were plenty of great yarns, including Kelvin Troy revealing his puzzlement at the Irish greeting of a wink and a shake of the head and also the falling-out with Mario Elie which means they've never spoken since.
We Got Game captured too the quality of these imports, top-class college performers of the like we'll never see in this country again, one of whom, Elie, went back home to win NBA titles. And it also captured the sadness in the way the basketball boom was killed when clubs made the crazy decision to halve the number of American players. Irish basketball is out of sight and out of mind these days. But it'll always have those glory days of the '80s.
I can give Motive no higher praise than to say that their sports documentaries wouldn't look out of place on ESPN's great 30 for 30 series. A slam dunk.