‘Shut Up and Dribble’ Recalls Long History of Activism Among Basketball Athletes

A new documentary from Lebron James looks at the history of the NBA and its effect on culture, African American issues and activism in the U.S.

“Shut Up and Dribble,” a new three-part documentary about the ongoing cultural and political relevance of athletes, debuted Saturday on Showtime (9 p.m. ET).
 
The title is a direct quote from Fox News’ Laura Ingraham when she quipped that NBA players LeBron James and Kevin Durant should “shut up and dribble” after both players publicly criticized President Trump.
 
LeBron James himself and Gotham Chopra planned the new documentary series earlier this year and served as executive producers along with Maverick Carter. Former ESPN personality Jemele Hill wrote and narrated the program.
 
Originally, the documentary was to center on three of the NBA’s greatest draft classes — 1984, 1996 and 2003 — and their impact on the league, basketball and society.
 
But once the filmmakers started exploring the source material, they realized the story was much broader than those three classes, and it was impossible to ignore the contributions of other players overall — such as Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell.
 
“It evolved because as we started making this, we realized these eras and these players had a much greater effect outside of basketball,” Carter said. “It was more about culture. That was the story we had to tell, that basketball was truly America’s sport.”

Shut Up and Dribble Takes a Look at Activists in the NBA

The docu-series begins with Bill Russell, who became player-coach of the Boston Celtics at a time when the league still sought to restrict the number of African-Americans on rosters. It then parlays into the activism of the 1960s when players rallied around Muhammad Ali’s anti-war stance, in a summit organized by football star Jim Brown.
 
Also explored is the NBA’s cultural and on-court relevance, from Michael Jordan’s impact on endorsements to Allen Iverson’s style to hip-hop’s influence on the NBA and its stars.
 
Other civil rights issues included are Craig Hodges’ White House visit with the 1991 championship Chicago Bulls where he wore a dashiki and hand-delivered President Bush a letter — asking him to do more for poor people, Native Americans and African Americans.
 
Additionally, it covers former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who didn’t stand for the national anthem because he said it was against his Muslim faith — and recent examples such as the Golden State Warriors skipping the traditional post-championship White House visit after Trump became president.
 
“In watching this, it’s not ‘who are the best players and teams?’ We don’t really talk about Kobe Bryant,” Chopra said. “We talk about guys like Craig Hodges. We talk about Mamoud Abdul-Rauf, who was the original (Colin) Kaepernick. We walk about Allen Iverson. What’s really important here?”
 
The second part of “Shut Up and Dribble” will air on Showtime this Saturday, November 9 (9 p.m. ET). View the previous episode online here.