(photograph by Chris Strong, taken from Stop Smiling)

Cheap laughs aside, ESPN’s made-for-TV films haven’t been especially memorable but there’s one on tap that might prove the exception.  “Hoop Dreams” co-creator Steve James (above) was commissioned by the network to direct “The Trial Of Allen Iverson”, a project Bill Simmons wrote, “has a chance to become one of the most important sports documentaries ever.”  Word to the SportsPutz, “Ice Castles” was not a documentary.  From the Daily Press’ David Teel :

During the last nine months, James has traveled from his Chicago home to the Peninsula four times to interview those on both sides, and in the middle, of a chasm created in 1993 when a black-versus-white fight at a Hampton bowling alley prompted mob-violence charges against Iverson and three other African-American youths.

Each was convicted of felonies, but Iverson, then an impoverished basketball and football prodigy at Bethel High School, was the lightning rod. A juvenile when the chair-throwing brawl occurred, he was tried as an adult, convicted by Hampton Circuit Court Judge Nelson Overton and sentenced to five years in jail.

The subsequent firestorm included what many described as the Peninsula’s worst racial tensions since the King assassination, weeks of blanket coverage from the Daily Press and drive-by reporting from national outlets such as NBC and Sports Illustrated ” the magazine later published a full-page apology for its error-ridden account.

Race relations, law enforcement, celebrity, class and sports: All collided on a Southern stage.

Three-plus months after sentencing, another twist: The nation’s first elected black governor, Douglas Wilder, furloughed Iverson.

“This is not a dispassionate journalistic inquiry,” Fox Hill, VA native James said. “It is an inquiry, but it is from a very personal place.”

Teel is careful to mention that Iverson and his mother, Ann, declined to be interviewed for James’ film.  Also refusing comment, former prosecutors and current judges Christopher Hutton and Colleen Killilea.