While there are a variety of sports documentaries which provide a glimpse (and an often controlled one at that) into the life of coaches, players, and other industry-based professionals already at the top of their game, Netflix’s Last Chance U: Basketball offers a unique perspective, one that presents the difficulties young athletes go through on and off the court while attempting to reach the elite level in a typically cut-throat, unforgiving environment. This is perhaps displayed none more so than in the third of an eight-episode docuseries, titled Jenny.
Just as the show’s title suggests, Last Chance U: Basketball follows a mixed group of once top-level college prospects and players running out of options, as they represent the Huskies at East Los Angeles community college, looking to do whatever it takes to grasp what is likely their final opportunity of achieving an American Dream that so many chase – a chance to ‘make it’ in basketball.
As is showcased throughout the documentary, episode three mainly draws attention to footage away from the court. In what is arguably the most heart-wrenching story of the series, Huskies captain and shooting guard Deshaun Highler open’s up about tragically losing his mum to cancer just over a year prior, allowing the viewer full access into the struggles of attempting to maintain his vital leadership role within the team whilst having to deal with a rapid transition into adulthood.
“It was the hardest thing I ever been through, and I hope it’s the hardest thing I ever have to go through. It was so lonely,” Highler says, while unable to hold back his tears. “You just gotta put your mind to it and put [the emotion] towards what you’re doing. That’s why I’m so emotional and so outspoken on the court. That’s where I let go.”
Where emotions are often hidden from sport, the scene presents a truly authentic narrative that has not been controlled to conceal anything from the spectator. It is clear Highler isn’t discussing his experiences for a publicity stunt, and there is no feeling of a sob-story to seem appealing. He is just sharing his life as it happens, and how he tries to remain strong in the face of adversity. As mentioned earlier, by allowing insight into the emotional battles that people go through away from sport, it can be hugely important as it reminds the viewer that athletes are still human, and not a mere source of entertainment for the observer’s gaze. It also helps to challenge the framework of hegemonic masculinity which manifests itself in men’s sport, as young male athletes are too commonly told to hide emotion and remain independent, which can lead to the suppression and avoidance of mental health issues.
Several other out-of-sport clips in the episode also help to deliver a connection between the viewer and the Huskies players. One scene featured small forward KJ Allen finding it difficult to balance his school life with his basketball ambitions. Once again, it provides the viewer with a chance to empathise with athletes by understanding and relating to personal issues, and how they might effect a person’s sporting performance. It gives an opportunity to change the sports discourse and question future behaviours towards athletes.
Where the production does focus on the basketball side of things, this episode is not dissimilar to others in the series in exhibiting the touching, behind-the-scenes, interpersonal relationships head coach John Mosley builds with his players. The scenes show his genuine commitment to the team, and how he is able to reflect on his own life experiences in order to form bond’s and have relatable conversations to guide the player’s through hard times. A closed-door conversation with the temperamental, but hugely talented power forward, Joe Hampton, is overheard by the spectator. On what looks like the verge of giving up, Hampton says to Mosley “I don’t know what to do, homie,” to which coach Mosley responds.
“I’m not giving up. I got your back, man, come on. You just gotta respond the right way. I can’t let you fail, bro. You’re not going to fail. It’s not happening. You here for a reason. A purpose.”
To conclude, episode three of Last Chance U: Basketball does a really good job of letting the viewer in to recognise previously unseen perspectives of how high school athletes must cope with the low’s as well as the high’s that present themselves whilst chasing their goals and maturing into young adults along the way. Both the in-game footage and personal stories shared by the player’s off-court are portrayed with such detail and raw emotion that a biased or controlled narrative is rarely felt, allowing the viewer to believe that absolutely all the ongoings of a high school basketball team are being exposed.