The story of former NBA star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s return to the mean streets of his youth to lead a team of disadvantaged middle schoolers to basketball glory.
Even the schmaltziest made-for-TV sports movie would be hard-pressed to squeeze in all of the clichés packed into the tale of Hardaway’s homecoming to the rough-and-tumble Memphis neighborhood of Binghampton: the local boy done good who returns to help underprivileged youth at the request of a cancer-stricken friend; the emotionally scarred, delinquent boys who turn their lives around when the star athlete becomes the father figure they never had; the rival gangs who call a truce during the season and unite to make sure the team stays out of trouble. And yet, each of those elements rings true in CNN.com writer Drash’s debut. The author leverages shared geographical and basketball roots to chronicle Hardaway’s transformation from NBA All-Star (a career unfortunately derailed by a series of injuries) to middle school basketball coach in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country. Hardaway originally took the job to help out the school’s coach, childhood friend Desmond Merriweather, when Merriweather was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, but stayed when he saw the opportunity to be a positive role model for an unruly group of boys who were growing up, as he had, with very little. The troubled but talented team quickly transformed into a state title contender, and the combined influence of Hardaway and Merriweather helped them maximize their potential both on the court and in the classroom. Despite the paint-by-numbers narrative arc, there are genuinely touching moments, and it’s always uplifting to see a wealthy superstar give more than just money to help his community.
A feel-good story that begs for a where-are-they-now follow-up in 10 years.