Review: 'Full Court' is a candid, inspiring look at the life of Spencer Haywood

Review: 'Full Court' is a candid, inspiring look at the life of Spencer Haywood

 "Full Court: The Spencer Haywood Story" screens during the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of SIFF, used with permission.)

"Full Court: The Spencer Haywood Story" screens during the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of SIFF, used with permission.)

Kobe. Michael. Lebron. While every young basketball fan knows these names the inspiring and candid documentary "Full Court: The Spencer Haywood Story" (which made its world premiere at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival on May 21) makes a strong case why every true student of basketball should know the name Spencer Haywood.

In short: Haywood recounts his life, from the extreme poverty of his childhood through the highs and lows his storied basketball career. (Watch the trailer)

Any one specific chapter in Haywood's life could have made a compelling documentary - but the unbelievable totality of his life is not merely incredible - it is also riveting, unflinching and ultimately inspiring. This documentary lays out a life and career that was difficult every step of the way -- sometimes made difficult by those around him or sometimes made harder by his own choices.

Haywood's story is so compelling that the filmmakers could have just had Haywood recount his life story in front of a camera. But there is real value added to this documentary in having Haywood stand in the center of his high school basketball court. His tall frame retraces the most important landmarks in his life, including his childhood home and the fields where he used to pick cotton.

But the key ingredient to "Full Court" is Haywood's unwavering honesty. He speaks very plainly and directly, be it about the betrayals he felt or the excesses and demons that ultimately ended his professional career. This forthrightness makes clear the tribulations his family endured living in a pre-civil rights era rural Mississippi and allows him room to proudly recounts the many records he broke and beams when talking about the ones he still holds. At no point does he bragging - he speaks with pride.

This film's only real flaw may be its execution. It feels like a very finely produced TV documentary, but it's odd transitions and over reliance on voice over has the feel of a pretty good cinematic documentary. "Full Court" spells out its themes a little too directly at times. This effectively tells Haywood's life story, but leaves little room for true artistic moments.

Final verdict: "Full Court" brings the spotlight back to an extraordinary athlete who lived an extraordinary life. His athletic career is a distant cry from the lives of so many multi-millionaire superstar athletes of today - but "Full Court" makes a convincing argument that Haywood was one of the most important figures in basketball history.

Score: 4/5

"Full Court: The Spencer Haywood Story" is not yet rated.

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