‘High Flying Bird’ Is Rich With Historical References. Here’s a Closer Look. | Modern Society of USA

‘High Flying Bird’ Is Rich With Historical References. Here’s a Closer Look.

‘High Flying Bird’ Review: A Thrilling Dunk on Capitalism

Steven Soderbergh’s electrifying new film “High Flying Bird,” which debuted Friday on Netflix, tells the story of a fictional N.B.A. lockout set in the Instagram Age, in which longstanding concerns about money, race and social justice are galvanized by disputes over players’ personal images, and who has the right to control them. (Appropriately, the entire film was shot on an iPhone.)

The film’s dense but fast-moving script, written by the playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (“Moonlight”), is also replete with references to the game’s history — not least to the currents of protest and politics that have coursed through pro basketball since it was segregated. There’s a rich subtext here, much of it only hinted at. Below is a spoiler-filled guide.

As in baseball, football and most areas of American life, segregation kept black players out of the white pro basketball leagues, confined to amateur and semipro all-black teams, which formed in schools, churches, community centers and the like. Games were frequently paired with ragtime dances to make for a full evening of entertainment.

The best known of these barnstorming teams, often called “Black Fives” by historians, were the New York Renaissance and the Harlem Globetrotters. The Renaissance — or, as they were better known, the Rens — were so impressive that in 1947, Coach Joe Lapchick of the New York Knicks lobbied the Basketball Association of America to admit the team into the young league, a precursor of the National Basketball Association. The owners voted him down. The next year, a competing league, the National Basketball League, brought the team in instead.

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