“This is no cautionary tale. This…is a success story.” – Director Mike Tollin
Though it’s a line delivered toward the end of the film, it would almost be better served as a prelude to the new ESPN documentary Morningside 5, a coming-of-age story about the titular 1992 California state high school championship team from Inglewood.
Equal parts Hoop Dreams and the Up series, Morningside 5 follows the starting members of that squad – Stais Boseman, Dwight Curry, Donminic Ellison, Sean Harris, and Corey Saffold – over a 25-year period as they pursue their dreams of NBA stardom and are ultimately forced to adjust to life after basketball.
As in the Chicago of Hoop Dreams, chapter one of the film is set against the backdrop of poverty, gang violence, and social unrest in Los Angeles circa 1992. Similar to the Up series, chapters two and three revisit their lives 10 and 25 years later, respectively. Morningside 5 is the third installment of a trilogy that debuted as Hardwood Dreams in 1993 and the 2004 follow-up Hardwood Dreams: Ten Years Later.
Like Up (and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood), one of its more striking cinematic features is watching the subjects’ physical transformations on film. Producer Mason Gordon told DIME that, after attending a screening of the movie at the LA Film Festival earlier this summer, one of the players involved admitted to him privately that the experience haunted him for weeks after.
Yet, that’s scarcely the most poignant aspect of this story.
In 1992, the Morningside Monarchs became Inglewood’s first and only state champs. The school had had a long basketball tradition and boasted famous alumni like Byron Scott and Elden Campbell, but the one thing that had always eluded Morningside High up to that point was a state championship.
And it wasn’t just about taking home the title. It was the manner in which they did it. The Monarchs had an unapologetic streetball flair to their game, and in many ways acted as avatars for the civic rebelliousness permeating Los Angeles at the time.