On Saturday, March 15, at 8 p.m. ET, CBS will air the documentary Summer Dreams. The documentary profiles the lives of six people during the NBA Summer League in Orlando and Las Vegas. The film profiles two drafted NBA players, guards Michael Carter Williams and Shane Larkin, two undrafted players trying to make rosters in Romero Osby and Dwayne Davis, D-League coach Joel Abelson who was fired on draft night by the Sioux Falls Syforce, and prospective official Lauren Holtkamp.
While the story uses their stories as the centerpiece, the orbit of the film shows the lives of those around them as much as their own. Kasheef Festus is Davis' best friend and manager, it shows the support he tries to provide Davis through the process of trying to land a job. Shane Larkin's mother shows a sensitive side with the pain she feels when Larkin goes down in a practice before Summer League even begins, weeks after the Mavericks load up on other point guards.
"What the film really says and shows is at the end, when the lights go out and the ball stops bouncing, it's about the people behind us and beside us that matter," senior producer Mason Gordon said.
If the NBA Finals are the gleamine spire in the palace of basketball, Summer League in Las Vegas is the marketplace.
"It's the one place where everyone comes together, from owners to players, to agents, to ballbooys to stats guys," executive producer Jon Weinbach said.
While being in Summer League is like being at a casual summer camp for players, executives and media, the environment means those trying to make it is under intense scrutiny.
Maybe the most compelling story is that of Dwayne Davis, who spent summer league trying to make it on the Warriors' roster as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi. Davis grew up in poverty in Philadelphia, and his tales of his family living in their car are stirring, and the emotion wen he describes the impact of the death of his mother leaves you broken.
Davis' story is one of a true underdog, and that extended even to the process of getting him into the film.
"It was an incredibly personal story," Gordon said. "Even getting Dwayne into the film was a challenge. There were all thse considearations for who they would follow. Questions of 'Would this turn audiences off?' or 'Would that turn audiences off.' And I remember just before the decisions were made, standing up and getting on my soapbox and letting my frusration out in one momment. I said 'None of that matters. Dwayne Davis needs to be in this film because he's a better person than I am, than a lot of people in this room are.' To go through what he did and have that anger built up, to have that resentment built up, and he really let all that go. He had to crawl through all of that with his fingernails."
"We did some extensive testing on the show," Weinbach said. "CBS did it. And Dwayne literally tested off the charts. It's become a bit of a cliche. There are so many guys who are from the wrong side of the tracks. And they don't necessarily talk on camera. This was a situation where you do your homework and you hope you get lucky."
"We were able to tell the story so that it doesn't feel exploitative. When someone starts crying, it can feel cheesy, and it wasn't."
From Joel Abelson's frustrations with the lack of opportunities and the scramble to find a new job, to Holtkamp's stress over the pressure of being constantly evaluated an official, to Shane Larkin's ankle injury which kept him out three months, setting back his rookie season, the stories told in the Summer Dreams pilot are an important lesson. The figure that comprise the basketball product watched by millions aren't created out of points and rebounds. There are very real people, with very real stories, behind every bounce of the ball.
"To me, I think the film's story is of how hard it is to make it," Weinbach said. "How hard it is even in different defintions of success, from making a roster to trying to be MVP. We all kind of think 'Eh, you're a college star, you get a big contract.' There's so much more that goes into it. Take any player, coach, ref, executve, it's so much more than on-court performance. To be able to get ito those places, you don't get to see those opportnities in pro basketball. It's a unique time, because everthing is up for grabs. It shows the emotion and how hard it is at the top level of pro bsketball."
Mason sums it up nicely. "I think the NBA summer really brings into stark relief how close we are to our dreams and how far we are at the same time."