Skirting self-parody with its wall-to-wall klezmer music, its earnest scholars trotting out truisms that are news to nobody (at least, nobody likely to see this film) and its single-minded drive toward the vindication of the Jewish athlete, "The First Basket" is a humorless, relentlessly ethnocentric docu about Jews in basketball.

Skirting self-parody with its wall-to-wall klezmer music, its earnest scholars trotting out truisms that are news to nobody (at least, nobody likely to see this film) and its single-minded drive toward the vindication of the Jewish athlete, “The First Basket” is a humorless, relentlessly ethnocentric docu about Jews in basketball. When the history of the sport is allowed to unfold through the reminiscences of geriatric Yiddish pros, pic approaches the richness of its impressive archival trove. Too often, however, director David Vyorst’s chauvinistic agenda intrudes. “Basket” dropped Oct. 29 at Gotham’s Village East.

Early footage of touring top-ranked basketball teams, sporting Hebrew-lettered jerseys, and players exploding onto college and pro courts from the Lower East Side presents a fascinating, little-seen version of escape from the ghetto via sports. Changing rules, tactics and even technology (basketballs with laces could hardly be dribbled) — casually mentioned by ex-players like Red Auerbach, Barney Sedran and Ossie Schectman (scorer of the titular basket in pro ball), whose love of the sport transcends pic’s narrow focus — indicate roads otherwise not taken.

The First Basket

Production

A Laemmle/Zeller Films release of a Zej Media production. Produced by David Vyorst. Co-producer, Jennifer Crescenzo. Directed by David Vyorst.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV), Gary Griffin; editor, Carol Slatkin; music, Roberto Juan Rodriguez. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Oct. 28, 2008. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Red Auerbach, Barney Sedran, Ossie Schectman, Sonny Hertzberg, Ralph Klapowitz, Hank Rosenstein, Walt Frazier.
Narrator: Peter Riegert.
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