“The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce”

The Drew League

Amos Lassen

In 1970, the Drew League was created in Los Angeles in the crime and gang neighborhood of South Central. It has since grown into one of this country’s premiere destination for pro-am basketball. “The Drew” is a chronicle of the unlikely rise of a hoops institution, the men and women who made it possible, and the unifying, positive force it has become while crossing racial, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers. The film features some of the most recognizable names in the NBA and the film celebrates the value of basketball, persistence, loyalty and, above all, community. Here we see what happens when the power of sports meets the power of people.

While the film presents an inner city basketball league as fun and nourishing to a community, it’s never shy of the reality from where it is. “The Drew” follows the advancement of this 40+-year-old league as much as it looks at the brutal cultural zeitgeist of South Central Los Angeles. This is a story about basketball but it is also a story of gang violence, riots, and discrimination. In the center is a basketball league that is capable of draining that negative energy.

We meet and follow the key components of this league. Dino Smiley is a portly, calm, and enthusiastic leader who pushed The Drew from a middle school to even- larger gymnasiums through his years as owner. He’s a clear father figure who is into developing players into better people.

The Drew capably retains the purity of basketball; instead of showmanship, we see a certain elegance. From those who run this show, that element is key, along with a sense of respect. Through interviews and footage we see South Central’s violence and poverty. We also see a community that surrounds these teams. The players are proud family and a means to connect.

It is natural for teams to become close as they move toward titles so The Drew is a service as much as a sport. Everyone knows everyone else and there’s a closeness that is rare in high crime areas. The league persevered through the riots surrounding Rodney King’s beating and it has been basketball that brought this community together as whole. Without The Drew people had nowhere else to turn.

In the film we see South Central through news footage and home recordings. We see walls covered with gang graffiti and parks left in disrepair. While that still exists outside of these gyms, the Drew League provides a place of comfort. It’s entertainment, and honestly so. Smiley is a potent, quiet personality who carries this film just as he has carried his community.

NBA players have come from this league but it was slow. We see the early personalities who personified this local spot. Later, as growth catapulted The Drew into a notable position, stars came to play rather than leave for the NBA. It is great to see Kobe and Harden square off in a high school gym but Smiley and The Drew has earned that. The film shows us why.

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