Put 300 NBA players and their outsized personalities in a bubble, give some of them cameras to record themselves, add the tension of social justice unrest, and you get “Game Change Game,” a Tribeca Festival documentary that gives viewers a rare behind-the -scenes look at how the basketball league coped during the turbulent summer of 2020.
The brainchild of former MTV president Christina Norman, who is now Head of Content at the National Basketball Players Association, the movie had its world premiere Tuesday at the SVA Theater in Chelsea.
The 110-minute film, directed by first-time directors Spike Jordan and Maxime Quoilin, features in-depth interviews with Phoenix Suns point guard and former union president Chris Paul, Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Sterling Brown and Phoenix Suns center JaVale McGee, as well as basketball greats like Julius Erving, Oscar Robertson and NBA coach Doc Rivers.
“Our mission is to represent the real player’s voice and that was the guiding light of all of this,” Norman told the Daily News.
“In the summer of 2020, when the world was burning down, I was sitting around trying to figure out what kind of content do I make now. The players were inspired to use their voices, to call for justice, to wake up the world, and to really lean in and get involved.”
The revealing footage shows how as basketball — and much of the sports world — shut down while coronavirus tore through the country and the world, the NBA decided to restart the season by isolating players in what they called a “bubble.”
All 22 teams arrived at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., on July 7, nearly four months after the NBA season had shut down. Many of them stayed for almost three months.
Jordan and Quoilin, better known for Kanye West, Nas and Travis Scott music videos, used a multi-layered storytelling style to display the emotions of the players as they were cloistered and faced intense isolation.
Within those surreal 18 months of filming, the players faced life-changing events: They had to confront an unknown virus that was swiftly killing thousands and they were locked down from the outside world for the sake of keeping the billion-dollar basketball industry alive.
At the same time, social justice protests and marches were breaking out as the country grappled with the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis.
“Being an NBA player doesn’t exclude me from no conversations, at all,” Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown says in the film. “First and foremost, I am a Black man and I’m a member of this community.”
In one of the more harrowing scenes, Rivers, 60, reveals his own encounter with racism, when skinheads burned down his home because he was “interracially married.”
“It’s one thing to make a tweet, but it’s another thing to go out there and embody what you’re saying,” Philadelphia 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle says as the cameras cut to him taking to the streets with Black Lives Matter protestors.
Social justice activists and victims of police brutality are also heard in “Game Change Game,” including author and activist Kimberly Jones who rallied for the elevation of Black people.
“This movement that we call the Black Lives Matter movement is really the Black Deaths Matter movement because we haven’t even begun to talk about Black lives … We’re in the streets everyday fighting for recognition and justice for Black death,” Jones says.
“We couldn’t just do like a straight documentary kind of story … We wanted something that was visually exciting that spoke to the players in the same language that they speak,” said Norman.
Jordan described the film as both timeless and timely.
“I have to say that because of what it’s about and how it’s 2022, and we’re still going through the same stuff, we’re still fighting for justice, our rights as people, as Black and brown people,” the co- director told The News.