Following the life of current Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard Sebastian Telfair during his last year in high school, the documentary “Through the Fire” is a magnificent portrait of Telfair as a young man attempting to pull himself and his family up and out of the ghetto.
Telfair, who grew up in Coney Island, NY and played high school ball at Lincoln, emerges on the screen as an overwhelmingly strong and positive figure. His charismatic personality, his sleight of hand moves on the court, his courage as he wades through the drama and the hype that surrounded his every move while at Lincoln, his devotion to his family; all of these facets that make up the person that is Telfair are brought into a bright white light as “Through the Fire” unfolds.
Rivaling only “Hoop Dreams” in the basketball-documentary genre, “Through the Fire” is as inspirational as it is thought provoking. Producer/Director Jonathan Hock does an astounding job of balancing the allure of Telfair’s decision to forgo a collegiate career for life in the NBA against the pressure that Telfair and his family face on a daily basis.
Using Jamel Thomas (Telfair’s older brother) and Dwayne “Tiny” Morton as opposing viewpoints on how to “make it,” “Through the Fire” is a venue for those left behind as much as it is a publicity promotion for Telfair.
Thomas (who played college ball at Providence and was a sure-fire-first-round- NBA-pick-that-didn’t-get-drafted) does everything that he can to make Telfair aware of just how hard it is to succeed in professional basketball-he constantly pushes his younger brother, even having him train in Greece before draft day. “Tiny” represents the modern, commercially and financially aware type of baller who is perhaps more concerned with money and fame than he is with playing the game.
Telfair himself comes across as being a split of the two. While he is friends with Jay-Z, and everyone from Spike Lee to Derek Jeter make an appearance courtside to watch Telfair play, Telfair also has a sincere passion for and devotion to the game. It is in his blood. His brother almost made it and now he wants to make it. And Telfair’s family is always beside him. The cry of “Where’s my mother” becomes normal whenever Telfair succeeds and knows that his mother is nearby.
“Through the Fire” is an absolutely fascinating view of just how crazy the lives of up and coming, young ballplayers become when they are thrust into the spotlight. The film opens with Telfair burning his friends and foes on the playground. He and nearly everyone that he knows live in a ghetto.
He’s just about to start his senior year of high school and he has every plan to attend Louisville and go to college. A year later, Telfair has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, had his games televised on ESPN, has signed a multi-million dollar shoe contract with Adidas and been declared a sure-thing first-round NBA pick.
Contrasting Telfair’s rise with the lives-stuck-in-motion of those around him, “Through the Fire” is a powerful comment on the system that has risen around young ballers whose only and every hope is to make it to the NBA. Telfair succeeded. Most don’t. “Through the Fire” shows this is in a brilliant, blinding light.