ESPN 30 for 30: Guru of Go (2010)

Directed by Bill Couturie

I have started to realize something about this series. Well, for one it has captivated me from the start, whether it has always been good or even mediocre to bland. But there have been some great episodes in there with great stories told in very compelling ways. Early on I complimented the series in its variety in terms of the sports which it had covered. However, I have started to notice that it has become loaded with football and basketball stories, which is fine because they are great, but if I had one major beef with the series thus far it would be for the lack of baseball on the menu, and it doesn’t look to be much more promising in the future when I look at the schedule. Like I said, I can’t complain, these are great stories, but it’d still be nice to encounter my favorite sport in this series.

Back to basketball, director Bill Couturie delves into the interesting and innovative life of basketball coach Paul Westhead. Westhead is significant to the game of basketball for a couple of reasons, including being the only coach to have won championships in both the NBA and the WNBA, with the Lakers and Mercury respectively. But his influence over the style of play in the game is greater, having been the principle implementer of the run and gun style of offense. He conditioned his players to pressure the ball and run it down the floor, taking as many shots as possible. The offense was explosive, but when he encountered the equally explosive player Hank Gathers while coaching at Loyola Marymount, a tragedy seemed to mar the success of the style and the legacy of the team.

Marymount was a serious title contender in 1990 with the potent play of Philadelphia phenoms Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers. But Gathers had a heart condition, which resulted in him collapsing on the court during one of the games. Just days later however, he returned to the court, only to collapse one more time, but this time for good. He died and it was the style of offense that Westhead ran, which was quickly to blame. It is an extremely emotion story and when it culminates in the moment that changed Westhead, Kimble and many people, there are definitely tears. It is an emotion which is unavoidable. I guess what is a shame is that the rest of the film is not as good, and that other than it being a real event, the moment is not earned.

Couturie struggles to find a focus in his film. The title of the film, and as the narrative begins, there seems to be a focus on Paul Westhead the coach and his style in the game of basketball. The title is after all ‘Guru of Go’, but it slowly evolves also into the story of the tragedy of Hank Gathers. It feels like two separate stories forced together simply because they were connected, not because they naturally flowed together. Westhead is an interesting figure, but I am not sure there is enough there to investigate for an entire film. The same goes for the Gathers tragedy. It seems like Couturie felt he could get away with just forcing them together, when in reality it didn’t work.

The film played out very similar to ‘Without Bias’ from earlier in the series. It was bloated in order to fill the full 51 minutes because there was not enough in there to really fill the time efficiently. In addition the story is told so straightforward that it seemed bland and overly simple. Style is not a necessity, but when you try a style and it fails, like with the stupid Shakespeare quotes and whatever that letter thing was Westhead read from, it becomes a problem. Gathers was an incredible player, as was Kimble, and the moments they shared on the court, even , and probably especially, the one made most famous after Gathers had passed are special. They are special moments to witness and to share in, and it is near impossible to not be effected by them, but the film does not rise to that level sadly.

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