ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: When the King Held Court (2016)

Directed by Palmer Holton

Celebrities and sports have always seemed to go together fairly well, although their stories are often under the radar. We all know about Jack Nicholson and the Lakers, and Matt Damon/Ben Affleck and the Red Sox. We know about President Obama’s affinity for sports, in particular the White Sox and basketball in general, going so far as to have a court installed at the White House. I am sure there are countless other stories of celebrities and their sports obsessions, most of them uninteresting, but when celebrity status is as big as it is for Elvis Presley, the undisputed King of Rock and Roll, well it is a remarkable story by itself. But when you dig into the details of the story, it becomes even more fascinating.

At a time when both racquetball and Elvis were larger than life, the two found an unlikely connection. After gaining a great deal of weight from eating whatever he wanted, in particular pasta, Elvis was advised by his doctor to begin an exercise routine, recommending the sport of racquetball, which at the time was seeing a boom in popularity. Presley soon became obsessed with the sport, entering into an agreement to build Presley’s Center Court racquetball complexes across the country before his manager pulled the plug. Presley did however build his own custom court at Graceland after having to make midnight trips to the local club to avoid the massive attention that followed his every move. The court at Graceland now houses gold records and is merely part of the museum his estate has become.

Delivered almost entirely in imaginative animated sequences, When the King Held Court is a simple and surprisingly entertaining documentary which offers little in the way of commentary on the King’s obsession, rather delighting in his passion for a game which has otherwise been forgotten by time. It still remains, and is an intensely fun game which I myself became a fan of during my college years. It’s a game which is easy to play and is a good outlet for both needed exercise and released aggression. Elvis’ games were said to be brutally intense, sometimes ending with blood on the court. I am sure all mega-stars have some quirky hobby or sport they play, but seeing the lengths to which Elvis went to secure his privacy and also to enjoy his hobby makes for a fun, swift 9 minutes.

*** – Good

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