Through the Fire
Since the age of 9, Sebastian Telfair has been one of the best-known basketball players on the streets of New York. At the start of his senior year at Lincoln High School, while his friend LeBron James is making history with a $90 million sneaker deal and NBA contract straight out of high school, Sebastian calls a press conference to announce his decision to attend college at the end of the year. But 18 years of poverty in the public housing projects of Coney Island have created a hunger in Sebastian, and when two young men are gunned down in the hallway right outside his apartment, Sebastian begins to feel that he wants to get his family out now, and that - if he can - he might try to make the jump right from high school to the pros. Five years earlier, Sebastian's older brother, Jamel Thomas, was a basketball star at Providence College, expecting to be drafted into the NBA and get the family out of the projects himself. But no NBA team picked him, and he and the family were devastated. Their mother, Erica, was heartbroken, and Jamel was forced to go overseas to play in obscurity. Now it is up to Sebastian to set things right for their mother, for Jamel and for his eight other brothers and sisters. Under pressure that builds with every game, Sebastian continues to show his genius on the court. Everyone - from the media who build up his legend to the sneaker companies who compete for his loyalty to the NBA scouts who dog his every step - claims a piece of Sebastian for themselves. Dwayne "Tiny" Morton, a former champion player at Lincoln who failed to make the NBA himself, turns up the heat on Sebastian even higher. Against the backdrop of despair that seemingly awaits all the young African-American men in Coney Island who don't make the NBA, Tiny drives Sebastian and his team mercilessly, treading a fine line between tough love and abuse. In the end, Sebastian is an 18-year-old boy forced to carry the hopes of his family, his coach and all of Coney Island on his shoulders. When he finally decides to pursue the NBA instead of college, the media that helped create his legend turn on him almost instantly, saying he is not ready to be a pro. Under Jamel's guidance, Sebastian drives himself harder and harder, while the family braces for another heartbreak. As America wrestles with the phenomenon of poor children passing up the traditional means of upward mobility for the win-it-all/lose-it-all gamble of professional sports, Sebastian Telfair has become the focal point of the debate. Through Sebastian's story, this film provides a candid, provocative and intimate look into the culture that can push these children to greatness, or drive them to ruin.