In Depth

ESPN: 'Black Magic'

In the process of researching a lengthy history of basketball for ESPN, filmmaker (“Crazy Love”) and former PR man Dan Klores found himself becoming more interested in the sports history of historically black colleges and universities.

When both sides decided not to go forward with the basketball project, he said, they struck a deal instead for the four-hour “Black Magic,” which the Peabody judges called an “unusually penetrating sports documentary.”

A student of American history and avid basketball player who lived in South Carolina for a decade, Mr. Klores said he had always found historically black colleges and universities fascinating, “because it was such an indication of separation.”

The film, which ESPN ran without commercial interruption (“I can’t bear it; that break-up is horrible,” Mr. Klores said), traced the history of African American basketball players and their coaches at the schools during the civil rights era, chronicling both the injustices committed in a segregated system and the schools’ contributions to the civil rights movement.

“These schools in the system are a critical component to our history, but they also represent something that the majority of people have no idea about whatsoever, not really: The schools, the African American family and the pursuits of education,” he said. “The film is about exclusion and therefore invention.”

Since making the film, Mr. Klores has been fighting, with others, to get the Basketball Hall of Fame to open its doors to players from the historically black schools, and, he said, “I think we will be successful.”

He and others also have lobbied Congress, so far with less success, to reopen an investigation into the 1968 Orangeburg massacre at South Carolina State University, in which three young people were killed and 27 injured when police fired on a group protesting the segregation of a local bowling alley. The little-known shooting was examined in “Black Magic.”

The biggest impact of the film, Mr. Klores said, was the rekindling of decades-old friendships. It brought him together with legendary coach Ben Jobe, who, he said, “largely because of the film” is now, well into his 70s, a scout for the New York Knicks; there he works for President Donnie Walsh, also featured in the documentary.

“It brought Donnie, myself and Ben back together,” said Mr. Klores, who has done another documentary for ESPN’s upcoming 30th-anniversary programming.