Tarell Alvin McCraney Asks: What If Black Players Took Over the NBA?

By Sameer Rao Jan 31, 2019

Comments like "shut up and dribble" reflect the damning reality of American sports leagues like the National Basketball Association (NBA), where primarily White team owners hold tremendous power and agency over the predominantly Black players’ livelihoods. In "High Flying Bird," which debuts February 8 on Netflix, Oscar-winning screenwriter and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney ("Moonlight") explores a parallel world where these players use lockouts to tip the scales.

The movie follows a Black agent (André Holland, "Moonlight") who exploits a loophole during an NBA lockout to "put the control back in the hands of the players behind the ball," as he says in the trailer. In an interview with GQ, McCraney compares this situation to the recent federal government shutdown and the strain it put on Black workers:


If you look at Congress, they look a lot like what these team owners look like. Mostly White, mostly older people who will be fine during a lockout. And then there are those who are on the ground floor, who are mostly Black, who if the lockout doesn’t end, they are struggling. Now they’re taking loans, they’re taking in debt. It’s piling up, and by the time the lockout is over, they may not be able to get out of it again. They were living off of checks that paid for their house, their mother’s house, their mother’s car, their brother’s whatever. So what if there’s this person who’s on the periphery of the game but in a moment like this, he looks at it and says, "Hey, this crisis could be an advantage." This moment where there are no rules and everything’s up for grabs—this could be your moment. What are the ways you could do that? And when the industry does kick back into gear again—and it will, it will find a way back; we as Americans always find our way back to capitalism, we believe in it as a birthright—so when it does come back, this may mean you won’t be a part of that. Are you prepared to do that? There are no easy answers to that.

McCraney adds that the film, which features at least one scene where a White executive tries to intimidate Holland’s character, touches on similar experiences he had in entertainment:


As a young and upcoming Black person in this industry, there have been moments that I have been intimidated by older White men who have said things like, "You’re going to be fine and you shouldn’t be a disruptor. You shouldn’t interrupt what’s happening. Everything’s going to be fine, get out of the way."

"High Flying Bird" is McCraney’s third high-profile project so far this year. He recently made his Broadway debut with "Choir Boy," a play about young Black gospel singers navigating their all-boys prep school. And OWN premiered the first-look trailer for "David Makes Man," a drama series loosely based on his own childhood, on Monday (January 28).