Review: 'The First Basket'

( Unrated ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

The story of how basketball helped young Jewish immigrants assimilate at the turn of the 20th century.

Courtesy of Laemmle/Zeller Films
‘First Basket’ recounts the history of basketball and its Jewish contigent early in the 20th century.

According to "The First Basket," the history of basketball is all of a piece with the history of turn-of-the-20th-century Jewish immigration. Who knew? This amusingly offhanded documentary makes the case that basketball and the New York settlement houses of that era were closely aligned. Urban Jewish boys took to basketball in a big way. By the 1920s, the game was bigger than stickball in the community, bigger even than baseball. And why not? Basketball was a way both to have fun and assimilate oneself into American society. Written and produced by David Vyorst and narrated by Peter Riegert, "The First Basket" offers up a gallery of sung and unsung basketball greats, including Brooklyn's Ossie Schectman, who made the first basket for the New York Knickerbockers in 1946. Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, Dolph Shayes, and Abe Saperstein are given their due. One objection: The movie's unstated subtext is astonishment that Jewish boys, brought up to believe athletics were frivolous distractions from their studies, could excel in sports. What's so astonishing? Some clichés die hard. Grade: B+ (Unrated.)

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