The new two-hour documentary special, Summer Dreams, from Raquel Productions in association with Mandalay Sports Media, and executive produced by Mike Tollin (Coach Carter, Smallville, 30 For 30) provides a behind-the-scenes look at all that transpires during the NBA’s offseason. The documentary, set to air on CBS at 8 p.m. E T this Saturday, March 15, features top 2013 NBA draftee, Michael Carter-Williams, fellow first round pick, Shane Larkin, second round pick Romero Osby, undrafted Dwyane Davis as well as female refreee hoping to break into the NBA and an unemployed D-League coach hoping to get noticed. You will not forget this incredible look at an NBA both casual and diehard fans almost never see.
“The NBA Summer League is an incredibly colorful event in which team owners, general managers, coaches, lottery picks and longshots all convene in Las Vegas to pursue their hoop dreams,” Executive Producer Mike Tollin said in a statement about the movie. “With unprecedented access, we’ll witness hopes dashed and dreams coming true right in front of our eyes.”
There are more than a few moments during CBS’ new documentary where it got a little dusty in our office as we watched. It’s not because we’re particularly sentimental, it’s that the storytelling and the drama surrounding the subjects of film is so engrossing that you can’t help but root for everyone involved.
Sure, Michael Carter-Williams’ mom might seem a bit pushy with her son, but he’s played beyond expectations in his rookie campaign and is now the frontrunner for the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year award. His mom, a former professional basketball player in her own right, is Carter-Williams’ secret weapon and prime motivator to improve.
The same can be said for the heart-wrenching injury to Shane Larkin, son of Hall of Fame baseball player Barry Larkin. Shane doesn’t even get to participate in Summer League and Mavs fans have only recently gotten a chance to check out the University of Miami guard’s skills. If he was just the son of an athlete, he would have folded right then and there, but it’s clear from the doc Larkin will do anything he can to get a win on the court and break free of his father’s omnipotent shadow.
Then there’s Romero Osby, the second round pick of the Magic, who got traded to the Celtics and then relegated to to the D-League outfit, the Maine Red Claws. Osby played well in summer league, even getting a shout-out from Kevin Durant on Twitter. But he was only offered a training camp contract with a forward-loaded Magic team, and after getting dealt and playing remarkably well in a brief snippet of games for the Maine Red Claws, his season was cut short after a shoulder injury. We spoke with Osby about his ups and down in the doc, and you can find our conversation on the last page.
Next up is Dwyane Davis, who might share the first name with a more famous Dwyane, but doesn’t have anything else in common with the Heat star. Whereas MCW was on the Barclays Center floor during the draft, and Shane Larkin was in the stands, Osby was watching at home with film crew in tow; Davis, however, wasn’t watching at all.
That’s just the player pastiche of Summer Dreams, but the NBA offseason is much more than that. The amazing crew behind the doc also followed an aspiring NBA referee hopeful, Lauren Holtkamp, attempting to become the second female referee in NBA history.
They also track Joel Abelson, an unemployed coach hoping to get noticed just like the players during summer leaguen runs. In the case of Abelson, he’s now the coach of the D-League’s Reno Bighorns, but like life, not everyone in the documentary gets a happy ending, and some are still on the inexorable slog to achieve their dream.
In all, the lead up to the doc’s premiere might seem like a simple cursory glance at what can happen during the NBA’s down season, but they did such a great job providing a granular, all-encompassing look at all the narratives involved, even in a daft draft, we can’t help but hope the rest of America agrees with us when it finally airs on Friday night.
After watching the entire film, we were curious how the filmmakers selected their subjects, and what they were trying to do with the film, which takes a niche part of the NBA, the summer session, and attempts to glean entertainment for the masses. On a personal level, we think they nailed it. The stories are genuine and real, which is hard to say about a lot of documentaries in this day and age. Plus, their broad spectrum of subjects ran the gamut of narrative emotions: pain, loss, sadness, enthusiasm, tenacity and pure, unbridled joy at having reached the apex of years and sometimes decades of hard work.
Thankfully, we got to talk with Evan Rosenfeld, one of the film’s senior producers, and an astute filmmaker, in terms of what’s most engrossing for the viewer. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation by phone:
Dime: How did you come up with the subjects of the documentary? A lot of them remind us of the “What’s My Name” feature Dime has been doing for more than a decade.
Evan Rosenfeld: When you do a story like this, everyone wants to follow the top picks; the number one guys. But in actuality, there is a lot less space for them in something like the summer league. And we wanted to show what the summer league means for everybody, across the board. And not even just players. We follow the head coach [Joel Abelson], the referee [Lauren Holtkamp]. The whole purpose of this is to kind of lift the veil over what happens in the summer league of the NBA. The NFL stays relevant all year round and you’re constantly seeing the combine and the draft, it all stays relevant all year round. But nobody knows about the NBA combine, nobody really follows it. This is to show people what goes on in this period when you’re not seeing NBA games on TV. For summer league, your top pick like Michael Carter-Williams, you get used to playing with your team and your new teammates. But guys like Dwayne Davis, Romero Osby, even to a lesser extent Shane Larkin, who didn’t actually end up making summer league, it’s a lot more meaningful. Shane Larkin right now isn’t getting much playing time, and that might be because in the summer league he didn’t have the chance to put himself on the level above some of the other point guards on the team. So with the wide-range of guys that we followed, we feel like it gives you a kind of complete view all around the board, what summer league means for everybody. So you have the first round pick, the top lottery pick MCW, who was a first round pick with Shane Larkin; Romero Osby, who may or may not get selected, and did, and Dwyane Davis who didn’t. You get a peek what their lives are like. Starting on draft day: Michael Carter Williams has the center table in a great area right in front of the stage [at Barclays in Brooklyn]l Shane Larkin out in the stands; Romero Osby with us at home watching on TV, and then Dwyane Davis not even watching the draft, not even paying attention. So you see the wide selection of what this all means. And then that continues through to the summer league. So I think we were able to accomplish that. We were able to see viewpoints of different guys in different positions in their basketball careers. It’s what we hoped to do, and I think we did it. So hopefully the viewers at home get a better understanding for what these guys are going through.
Dime: What was the impetus to start filming something like this, and how did you get access?
ER: Anybody that would like to do something like this, you have a million ideas like this, but in reality it’s not gonna happen. Especially the NBA, you don’t normally see outside production companies, like ourselves, coming in. The NBA has NBA Entertainment, and they do their thing. So I think with the changing of the guard there, they’re looking to expand their entertainment profile and do things a little bit differently. And it was just a mixture of going outside of the NBA, CBS and ourselves, and we came up with this to showcase the NBA summer. We could have expanded it and started it a little bit earlier and expanded a little bit later. But for this time we decided to focus on the NBA summer and to go a little bit before and a little bit after. That’s kind of how it came about, in terms of finding these guys. It wasn’t like we just looked up some of these guys. We went to combine, we went to various group workouts for teams; we interviewed a ton of players, we did Skype’s; we visited a ton of homes and went to hometowns of players to find the best stories. There are a lot of guys that have interesting basketball backgrounds, but there’s not much more besides that. We wanted to show people who had family involved, had other elements â€” like Dwyane Davis, who was homeless and was working towards something that meant a lot more than somebody else in the same situation. Or Shane Larkin, it’s not just he’s a first-round draft pick, he’s the son of a Hall-of-Fame baseball player trying to get out of his shadow. So we figured we could showcase these different stories. And there are a lot of them we weren’t able to tell. There’s only so much time and only so many people we could follow, but it was definitely not easy to select these guys. We’re happy with the people we selected, but there were a number of interesting stories we weren’t able to tell. I think moving forward, to do something like this again, it just is proof of concept there’s an unlimited amount of stories people will be interested in. And part of it, I think, is people who aren’t just basketball fans, families, moms, that’s why we have Michael Carter-Williams’ mom. We wanted this to be for not just basketball fans, so anybody can sit and watch. And they might not know a lot about basketball or know about the draft, or what situations rookies are in, but this will open their eyes to that. And in another sense, show what else is in their lives besides just the game.
Romero Osby is a perfect of example of the genius behind Summer Dreams. On draft day, Osby had the courage to invite the filmmakers into his home to get live footage as he watched the draft, knowing full well he might go undrafted.
After the Grizzlies â€” one of the frontrunners interested in his services â€” passed on him with the 41st pick in the second round, many observers thought that might be it. But Osby was selected 10 picks later by the Magic. He played well in summer league, as you’ll see when the film airs, and the Magic offered him a tentative training camp contract, which still meant he had to make the team.
Unfortunately, the Magic waived Osby in late October and his rights were picked up a little more than a week later by D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. He played well there, averaging 16.2 points on 44.7 percent shooting and an excellent 42.7 percent beyond the arc in a little over 27 minutes a night. He also chipped in 6.4 rebounds as a hybrid forward who is the next generation of big (Osby stands 6-8, 230 pounds) 3&D guys. But after 12 games of great run, Osby suffered a shoulder injury and was waived on Jan. 11 this year.
We spoke with Osby by phone and talked about his hectic summer and what his plans are moving forward. Below is an edited transcript of our chat:
Dime: Have you seen the doc yet?
Romero Osby: Nah, I haven’t seen the finished product. They were gonna send me a finished copy, but I wanted to watch with everyone else.
Dime: How’s your shoulder doing? [he injured it in January and was cut by the Red Claws]
RO: It’s going good. It’s getting a lot stronger. It’s only been six weeks tomorrow. It’s almost all the way back, so I should be ready by Summer League this summer?
Dime: What do you think your story offers for people who aren’t familiar with players like you, on the cusp of the NBA, but not quite there, just yet?
RO: It’s a different perspective because I did get drafted. A lot of people think that when you get drafted, you’re automatically in the NBA. It’s not like that. If you’re in my situation and you’re a second round pick in the early 50s towards the end of the draft [Ed. note: Osby was selected No. 51 overall by Orlando] then you have to work for everything. In my situation, they had a lot of guys who played my position, both young and old and a good mixture of guys. So I didn’t get a chance to stay a part of the team for a full season. I was just there for training camp because a lot of people don’t know that. And then I started out in the D-League and trying to get back to the NBA and trying to stick. I guess that’s the perspective that they show. Along with the fact I have my family with me. I got a daughter, and I’m away. And they get into the aspect of, some guys grow up early. I’m only 23, but I’m already married and have two kids. Everybody’s journey is different, so this is my journey. It’s a little more difficult, but it’s just how it is.
Dime: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize that a second round pick doesn’t have a guaranteed contract. The Magic just signed you to a training camp contract, right?
RO: Yeah. When I was in training camp, I had to make the team in order to get that contract. So I had to get the training camp contract, but if I got another contract, I would have been with the team for three years.
Dime: So just looking at where you’re at now, what’s the next move for you?
RO: First of all getting healthy. Then, once I’m healthy I can get on a summer league team with someone and then get out there and put my talents on display so that not just that team I’m with, but also for the rest of the NBA and overseas teams. Just finding out what’s best for my family, that’s what really going on right now.
Dime: We’ve seen the doc, and there’s a scene where you say, ‘I gotta starting acting the right way,’ while talking about taking care of your family. Can you elaborate on what that means?
RO: Yeah, the thing about family is it’s not always about you. It’s not about my dream or fulfilling that dream, or whatever the case may be, but with everyone else. But that’s the situation I’m in right now. Do I pursue my dream; do I go to the D-League for a little bit of money or go with the big teams [overseas] for the big money. There are decisions that need to be made, is what I mean. It’s time to start doing things the right way and looking out for the family. So I think that’s what I mean now. I can’t even tell you the mindset I was in when it happened, but that’s what I think about it now. Taking care of the family, and doing things the right way.
Dime: Yeah, a lot of casual fans don’t know this, but the D-League just doesn’t pay that well. So a lot of fringe guys we’ve spoken to talk about that choice between their dream, the NBA and going to the D-League â€” where you have a better chance to be spotted by a scout or a GM â€” or taking the bigger money overseas. Is that what you’re facing now? Have you gotten offers? Would you bring your family with you?
RO: Well I was offered. Before I went to training camp with the Magic, I was offered [deals]. But of course once I got out of training camp with the Magic, a lot of the jobs that had been offered had run their course. They went ahead and filled their rosters and everything, which I understand. Right now I’m in a situation where I’ll weight my options and see what’s next. You know what I mean? I’m not gonna say I wouldn’t go overseas and I’m not going to say that I will. I’ll just say when it all comes down to where I am at that moment or at that time, that’s when I’m going to make my decision based on ‘OK, where are we now?’ Do I go to the D-League for six or seven months…or do they offer me to go over there for the money [overseas]? Whatever the case may be, I’m just taking my time. First thing is making sure I get healthy and then I’ll focus on the contracts when that comes.
What do you think?
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