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Basketball Safe Haven

While The Drew presents an inner city basketball league as fun and nourishing to a community, it’s never shy of the reality from where it sits. The Drew follows the advancement of this 40+ year old league as much as it does the brutal cultural zeitgeist of South Central Los Angeles. It’s a story of gang violence, riots, and discrimination. In the center, a mom and pop basketball league, capable of draining that negative energy.

From a well of poverty, The Drew follows the key components of this league. Primarily, Dino Smiley, a portly, calm, and enthusiastic leader who pushed The Drew from a middle school to ever larger gymnasiums through his years as owner. He’s a clear father figure, in this not for the money (The Drew addresses those concerns too) but developing players into better people.

This isn’t street ball. The Drew capably retains the purity of basketball; instead of showmanship, there’s elegance. From those who run this show, that element is key, along with a sense of respect. The Drew, through its interviews and footage, breaks the veil of South Central’s violence and poverty. A community surrounds these teams. Their players are family, proudly so. It’s a means to connect.

Smiley is a man who deserves a documentary of his own

Sports offer stories like this. Teams become close as they march toward titles. That’s natural. The Drew is a service as much as sport. Everyone knows everyone else, exhibiting a closeness rarefied in crime-stricken areas. With a jolt, the league persevered through the riots surrounding Rodney King’s beating. Basketball brought this community together as whole. Without The Drew, people had nowhere else to turn.

A swell of empathy is elicited from this documentary. South Central is depicted through news footage and home recordings, walls laced 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 man who deserves a documentary of his own, a potent, quiet personality who carries this short 70-minute feature much like he carried his community.

NBA players sprouted from this league. It was slow. The Drew documents 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. Seeing Kobe and Harden square off in a high school gym – in their prime – is remarkable. It’s deserved for Smiley and his crew. They earned that. The Drew effortlessly explains why.

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A beautiful snapshot of The Drew, an inner city mom-and-pop basketball league that brings a community together through sports.

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