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Dime Q&A: The Minds Behind Upcoming Swee’ Pea Documentary

NYC basketball.

The mecca of it all some may say. You can’t go to any other place in the world without feeling the essence of basketball unless you go to NYC. No court, no gym, no park will quite give you that feeling and it’s safe to say it may never change. NYC basketball is known for its rich history in streetball with legends such as Pee Wee Kirkland, Earl “The Goat” Manigault or even Julius “Dr. J” Erving. But what about Lloyd “Swee’ Pea” Daniels?

Lloyd Daniels was a legend in his own right and he, without a doubt, was the epitome of a streetball legend. There are not a lot of words to quite describe the life he lived from the streets to the NBA but thanks to Benjamin May, his story will be told.

Dime Magazine got a chance to speak with director Benjamin May and producer Karl Hollandt as they shared the interest and filming process behind their upcoming documentary on Swee’ Pea Daniels.

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Dime: Why did you guys decide on a film on Swee’ Pea?
Benjamin May: Lloyd lived a dramatic life and has a real natural dramatic feel to it. I was a fan since high school and was always intrigued by the fact that nobody did a documentary about Lloyd Daniels. He was a guy with extreme talent from the New York City area who brought down the No. 1 team, he went to UNLV to play for Jerry Tarkanian, he’s been shot and went to the NBA. So he lived a crazy life. It was actually my wife that brought it to my attention and was telling me that I should do it. So if anything, she really pushed me to do the documentary.

Karl Hollandt: I agree with Ben 100 percent. Lloyd is very complex and very compelling as an individual. The story alone is quite amazing if you really look at it. Here is this guy who was practically a legend in New York City that had this crazy fall from greatness. He was a legend in his own right. Like when you actually meet him in person you see the larger than life character he really is.

Dime: I can tell just from watching the trailer.
BM: Absolutely, he has an insane amount of charisma, very likeable, but at the same time he’s very complex. On one hand he’s likeable but on the other hand he’s very dark and very manipulative. At first it was supposed to be a story on Lloyd Daniels’ life but once we started to know him we uncovered him as a person and his tragic flaws that prevented him from be a potential 10-time All-Star.

KH: When you meet Lloyd you instantly realize that you will never meet another person like that. We could go hours and hours on him but when you meet him you will say “I get it.”

Dime: Why do you think his story should be told to the masses?
BM: On one hand Swee’ Pea lived a very interesting life while on the other hand he is an easy and interesting person and this makes for a very unique and interesting story. This is a redemption story. This is a cautionary tale about when young athletes burn out young because of the temptation of drugs. Then there also lessons about how he is giving back coaching at the AAU level to teach kids the right things to do in life. At the end of the day, this documentary will teach people the lessons about life.

KH: I think we all had some much discussions about the film. By default, this story needs to be told and we truly believe all great films need to be told. There’s also so much history to this film also. He embodies a certain time in basketball history. He talks about fighting addiction, making it to the “stage” and also raising kids.

Dime: How was it looking for film on Swee’ Pea?
BM: Sure. Well, there was a book called Swee’ Pea and Other Playground Legends and that was something I used to figure out the initial interviews around the city. After that we were able to get other interviews because everybody knew Lloyd Daniels. Finding our viral material was a bit harder. We couldn’t find much documented video from his childhood but we did find a video of him playing in high school ball back in ’86. Lloyd never kept any of that stuff to be honest, I don’t think he cared.

KH: Honestly, trying to find video was like trying to find Bigfoot. It’s not like it is today whereas kids have new mixtapes of their high school prep years. But Ben has been doing an amazing job–he’s been finding stuff very often.

Dime: So how was it at first pitching the idea to Swee’ Pea?
BM: He was all for it. Lloyd was initially 100 percent and gung-ho for it, but when you first meet him he’s up for anything. The first several shoots Lloyd was an inactive participant in the film. Now, of course he had a lot of tragic flaws he kept hidden his entire life, which make it almost impossible to film him. But at the end of the day he participated and contributed to the film and he’s excited about it.

Dime: So I guess working with Swee’ Pea was sweet no pun intended (laughs).
KH: Yeah, it was but I really have to give it up to Ben. He really was the first person to help get him to open up and really form a relationship with Swee’ Pea.

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Dime: How long did it take you to film the project?
BM: Well, we’re in the middle of production right now hence the reason we started a Kickstarter campaign to finish production. But I would probably say we shot for about 12 or 13 days. We shot a little in New York, New Jersey where he lives now and also Las Vegas where the reunion was with Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian. It was great because we captured that on film but we also took Lloyd to the crack house in Las Vegas that really sidelined his career. That, by far, was the most emotional climax of the film so far.

Dime: Was that actually the first time both Jerry and Lloyd saw each other since UNLV?
BM: No. So for those who aren’t aware, Jerry Tarkanian coached Lloyd at UNLV and recruited him out of high school despite him reading at a third grade reading level. So, Jerry Tarkanian had been running a program in which he was giving opportunities for athletes a chance to play who had terrible academic standards. So before he played a single game Lloyd got busted for crack cocaine. Because of the bust, it resulted in a nationwide scandal, which translated to Tarkanian resigning and the school going on probation. So after Tarkanian stopped coaching at UNLV he got working with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA and the first person he called to bring up was Lloyd. So when you think about it, it was kind of cool that the same person that recruited Lloyd to come play in college brought him to the NBA.

Dime: Did you uncover anything new about him that you probably never knew?
KH: Well he has a really great relationship with his children. Honestly, when you see him with his children you realize that that was the true redemption. I think that is a true testament in anybody’s life, despite what you may have done in your life, if you pass on something positive to the next generation that says a lot and Tarkanian saw that. When Tarkanian saw him for the first time in years he had already been through multiple strokes but when Lloyd Daniels walked into the room you can see Tarkanian smile from ear to ear. That said, it goes to show despite all the bridges that Lloyd has burned with people throughout his life, people still have a sort of allegiance to him.

BM: When we started this documentary we realized that he was a very complex person. Everything that had been written about him was very black and white but after filming we realize that he is very complex. When you really look at it you realize this guy lived a really incredible life.

KH: When you get around him you realize he is like one of the most lovable, charismatic persons that you will ever meet and he is truly captivating. He was raised in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New York and practically grew up around hustlers.

Dime: Just judging from the trailer you get the sense that he’s been through a lot and despite his struggles you still see him smile and that’s the greatest end result. What do you want people to get from watching this?
BM: People who watch this movie that are fans of street basketball or the game in general will get to really understand Lloyd Daniels as a person. He really had this type of transcending talent, something reminiscent to the likes of a Wayne Gretzky or Leonardo Da Vinci. So this was the type of way to really bring the story out of a person. The other reason is Lloyd was birthed in the center of streetball in New York City. He was the biggest name in basketball at that time and was downright a legend. I mean when you see his story from going to UNLV to getting shot to getting to the NBA to being there for his kids you realize it’s a story of redemption. With the story of Lloyd it will definitely be a real emotional one and people will really be fascinated by the story. At the end of the day, all I have to say is enjoy the movie and ask yourself how Lloyd made it through his circumstances or out the hood. Also, ask how did he make it to the NBA or even survive getting shot in the chest? He’s like a modern day mythology and viewers will be truly be moved by the story of Lloyd “Swee’ Pea” Daniels.

What do you think?

Follow Andrew on Twitter at @DrewTheAbstract.

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