ESPN’s Black Magic Looks at Civil Rights through Basketball


Keith Clinkscales is an accomplished business leader with particular experience in the sports, music, and entertainment industries. While working for ESPN as its senior vice president of content development and enterprises, Keith Clinkscales developed a number of notable documentaries, including Black Magic.

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, Black Magic is an ESPN documentary that follows the concurrent development of the American civil rights movement and rise of the National Basketball Association. Specifically, athletes such as Willis Reed, Avery Johnson, Ben Wallace, and Pee Wee Kirkland discuss what it was like to be simultaneously revered as athletes and discriminated against as African-American citizens. Family members, including the athlete’s wives, were also interviewed, providing the film with a unique scope.

The film opens with a little known 1944 basketball game played between black students from the North Carolina College for Negroes and white medical students from Duke University. The game was played in a locked gym before zero fans, with the North Carolina squad triumphing 88-44. By the end of the four hour documentary, which is available to stream or purchase, collegiate and professional basketball has been fully integrated, despite the lingering cultural, social, and political issues that persist today.

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