Directed by Adam Yauch, better known for his day job in the Beastie Boys, the basketball documentary Gunnin' For That #1 Spot comes from a pure place. Or rather, it comes from a desire for a pure place in a game poisoned by mercenary compromise. Yauch and his fellow Beastie Boys were featured as an "unlockable" team in the videogame NBA Street 3, and his affection for that brand of free-flowing, playground-style hoops makes the film come alive whenever ball hits pavement. But in the space between that footage, which is mostly limited to the final third, Yauch introduces just enough issues surrounding the big business of high-school recruitment to get himself in trouble. In a world where predatory shoe companies play kingmaker to fragile young talents, much of the fun has been sucked out of the game. And Yauch's movie isn't entirely immune.
Shot in 2006, Gunnin' For That #1 Spot follows eight of the country's finest high-school basketball players—including two of this year's NBA lottery picks, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love—as they gather in New York for the inaugural "Elite 24" game. Unlike other corporate-sponsored cattle round-ups that parade the nation's best players, like the McDonald's All-American Game or the Nike or Adidas camps, the Elite 24 gathers a select group of high-school all-stars to play at Harlem's Rucker court, the famed spot where Julius Erving and other greats first made their name.
Bolstered by a soundtrack that would financially cripple a filmmaker without Yauch's connections—including tracks by old- and new-school greats like Jay-Z, Nas, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, and N.W.A., among others—the film covers the game's highlights with great flair. The joy of street basketball is that style matters more than points, and Gunnin' For That #1 Spot wants more than anything to celebrate the sheer talent on display. Yet all the while, its ankles are being held by a recruiting system that keeps imposing itself on the players and the event, tarnishing everything it touches. Yauch's film only touches that problem's surface, but it weighs heavily nonetheless.