Hoops Africa

The film “Hoops Africa looks” at the role of basketball in Africa. Presented by RiverRun, it will play Dec. 5 at Marketplace Cinema.

Throw some professional basketball players with out-sized personalities together on a team and trouble can ensue.

The road to the NBA title is littered with teams whose stars couldn’t figure out how to play together.

In 2007, Coach Doc Rivers, then with the Boston Celtics, knew his team, which included future NBA Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, had the makings of title contender. But could they learn to sacrifice, work together for the greater good and find joy in the day-to-day grind of an 82-game schedule?

To help them achieve that goal, Rivers introduced the African philosophy of Ubuntu, which is loosely defined as a feeling of connection with humanity, that we are nothing without each other.

The players bought into the concept, turning it into a mantra that was repeated daily during practices, games and in the locker room, en route to the 2008 NBA Championship.

Taylor Sharp was a student at UNC Chapel Hill when he first read about Ubuntu and the role it played on that Celtics team. A basketball fan with a penchant for story-telling, Sharp dug into the philosophy of Ubuntu, leading him to Africa, a continent that is producing some of the brightest young NBA stars, including Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid.

The result is the documentary “Hoops Africa,” which which will be screened on Dec. 5 at Marketplace Cinemas, 2095 Peters Creek Parkway. A Morganton native now living in Durham, Sharp plans to attend the screening.

Sharp spent time in Zimbabwe the summer after his freshman year, volunteering with the nonprofit organization, Hoops 4 Hope that makes Ubuntu part of its focus. In a stroke of serendipity, Sharp wound up sitting next to filmmaker Dan Hedges of Asheville on the flight home. They struck up a long conversation, and hatched the idea of making a documentary on Ubuntu and its impact on teams who play on the dirt courts of Zimbabwe and the glossy parquet floors of the NBA.

“As I dug more into Zimbabwe and saw how Ubuntu was lived out on the courts, it was especially rewarding to hear from Celtics players who validated the role Ubuntu played on that team,” Sharp said. “Ubuntu was the underlying force that could unite them, could give them a bigger picture, that’s it’s more about the group than individual.”

Sharp landed interviews with a few players from the team including Pierce and Brian Scalabrine, as well as Rivers and NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

“They told me there was pretty immediate buy-in,” Sharp said.

As Sharp was making the film, the NBA made several overtures into Africa, including the first NBA game on the continent, a 2015 exhibition that featured NBA players with African ties against a team of NBA players, including Winston-Salem native Chris Paul, who appears in the film.

“Hoops Africa” was finished in 2017 and had an exclusive premier on NBA TV. It is now available on iTunes and Amazon.

Sharp has traveled all over the country and to Milan, Italy, to show the film.

Since finishing “Hoops Africa,” the NBA announced that it will launch a Basketball Africa League.

“We know the future is bright on the continent for basketball,” Sharp said.

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