I heard it late last year, and now I’ve heard it again. ‘ESPN should do a 30 for 30 documentary on Basil Shabazz.’ For those that don’t know what the series is (You are seriously missing out and must live under a rock), it’s a volume of sports documentary films aired on ESPN.
The Best That Never Was — the story of former Oklahoma running back Marcus Dupree was highly acclaimed, and in Arkansas spurred fans to wish someone would profile this state’s version — Shabazz.
The film was well done, and Dupree’s story that begins in Philadelphia, Miss. is a good one. However, I thought then, and even more so now that Shabazz’s story is better.
There is no disputing Dupree is arguably the greatest all-time prep running back. He played on the varsity squad as a freshman, and ran for nearly 3,000 yards his senior season. He totaled 7,355 yards and 87 career touchdowns. Dupree was so dominant college football assistants took residence in Philadelphia so they could court him easier. His high school coach fielded up to 100 calls a day asking about the star back.
Dupree also competed at a high level for the school’s basketball team helping them to the semifinals as a sophomore and hitting .481 for the Philadelphia baseball team.
Shabazz was a more complete athlete and has some legendary stories of his own — like dunking a basketball in the fifth grade and jumping a state record 6-foot-9 in the high jump the first time he entered the event. He ran for more than 1,500 yards and 28 TDs his senior year despite having to share carries in Marion Glover’s wishbone. What maybe stands out a bit from Dupree is his stellar 1990 AAAA State Title Game performance. Shabazz ran for five touchdowns and helped the Zebras to a 33-13 win while dismantling a Texarkana defense, who was only yielding just over six points per game.
With Shabazz, who was voted the outstanding national running back in 1990 and the 1991 National High School Athlete of the Year, you have an athlete who according to former Arkansas men’s basketball coach Nolan Richardson could have played four sports collegiately. That’s a rarity and was not an option for Dupree.
So, Shabazz was probably a shade less dominant in football (But he was still recruited by every major program in the nation and one of the Top 10 recruits in the nation) than Dupree but more dominant in three other sports and earned national accolades for his dominance. The St. Louis Cardinals took him in the first pick of the third round of the 1991 MLB Draft.
The hard knock life story of small-town poverty is eerily similar for both. Both were trying to beat the odds. Philadelphia is known as the town where three civil rights members were lynched in 1964. Drug dealers and gang bangers infested Pine Bluff’s streets and Shabazz and his good friends, Carlos James and Torii Hunter were tempted at every turn.
That’s the other part of the story that makes Shabazz’s interesting — his connection with the Detroit Tigers five-time All-Star. The duo was arrested together on the Central Arkansas campus in 1994. Charges were later dropped but St. Louis cut Shabazz, while the Twins elected to stand by the 19-year-old Hunter. The severed tie from St. Louis was the beginning of the end for Shabazz. Hunter eventually made the Twins roster and has become one of the great outfielders of this era.
His personal life — how both of his brothers were dead at early ages and the number of friends that were also lost early and how he met his wife, Reca, and fled to Texas — is almost as interesting as his athletic exploits.
As I drove home from Plano, Texas after spending two days with Shabazz, I argued with a friend that Shabazz’s story made for a better documentary. He said no one has ever heard of Shabazz. That’s the point. Sometimes the best stories are the ones no one has heard or read. I knew Shabazz’s story had appeal in the state. We’ve seen proof with large number of Facebook likes and message board complements we have seen. But his story is so remarkable, it lends itself well nationally, too.
I also refuse to believe that Dupree is well-known aside from the hard-core college football fans. There were many ESPN viewers who were introduced to Dupree the first time that night.
Dupree runs a pro wrestling promotion. Shabazz mentors kids and teaches them fundamentals as a co-founder of the North Texas Spartans non-profit youth sports program. Advantage Shabazz.
The hard-knock upbringing coupled with his freakish athletic ability and the tough breaks in minor league baseball and a serious injury that ended his college football comeback has all the elements and more of what made The Best That Never Was was one of the better 30-for-30 documentaries.
For coverage on Basil Shabazz go to www.syncweekly.com/shbazz