If you’re a basketball fanatic and appreciate some classic, light-hearted Jewish humor – The First Basket (directed by David Vyorst) is right up your alley. In a Jewish neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan, this documentary features the evolution of one of America’s most beloved sports. Narrated by various Jewish historians, sportswriters, and former athletes, this film certainly has the Star of David stamped to the closing credits – but contrary to popular belief, it was the Jews, not the African Americans who were responsible for making basketball such a popular and lucrative game.
This documentary illustrates pro-ball’s influence on Jewish-American culture, and Jewish-American culture’s influence on the game. During the peak of Jewish immigration at the turn of the century, playing basketball was initially an assimilation strategy – another step to becoming American. But this settlement-house favorite soon became a New York burrow favorite, inspiring local competition that escalated to a collegiate level (with schools like CCYM and NYU alpha-dogging), and eventually, a professional one.
Not only does this film credit the Jews for ultimately inspiring the success of such a universally loved sport, but it introduces the nuts and bolts of the process. Before we had The Staples Center, there were bread baskets nailed to fences – and before we had rubber basketballs, there were crumpled newspapers. This film gives both sports-lovers and the average Joe’s of the audience a whole new appreciation for the game. It gave the Jews a sense of community in a foreign country, and those same principles of teamwork and collaboration are what make the sport so contagious.
From the legendary Nat Holman, the Philly’s SPAH’s at the root of the semi-pros, and New York Knick – Ossie Shectman – scoring the first basket in the history of the National Basketball Association – this film takes the audience from Moses to Jordan, one lay-up at a time.
Currently open with a limited release.
Check out the trailer: