Finding Big Country a humble man

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      A documentary by Kathleen S. Jayme. Rating unavailable

      Gans, Oklahoma (population: 312), has been the home of songwriter Cal Smith, best known for the 1974 hit “Country Bumpkin”, and of Bryant Reeves, a size-large, ginger-haired basketballer called “Big Country” by everyone during his collegiate rise and meteoric stint in the NBA soon after. One can safely say that Gans is one heckuva “country” town.

      To people in this country, Reeves is famous—to the extent he’s remembered at all—for playing the whole six seasons that the Vancouver Grizzlies team was based here, before it abruptly moved to Memphis in 2001. (B-ball fans may be surprised to find that the loss-heavy team’s last game was a 95-81 win against the Golden State Warriors.)

      Due to back pain and other injuries, Big Country didn’t even make it into the first season in Tennessee. Reportedly, he had to be taken off the Memphis court on two stretchers carried by eight teammates. His career in sports was over at the age of 28. But what’s he been doing since?

      “For a seven-foot guy,” one of his colleagues from that time tells the camera here, “he’s done a pretty good job of hiding.” For Vancouver filmmaker Kathleen Jayme, finding Reeves was a long-time obsession, since he came to represent her childhood fascination with the game as well as her own short time as a serious player—in college, she washed out due to lack of height, not talent.

      This lively, well-paced film is only 40 minutes long, so it’s not ruining too much suspense to say she was successful in finding him, and in documenting her journey along the way. The filmmaker and her subject are highly likable characters on-screen, and the movie, which won a major audience award at the last VIFF, serves as a kind of dual biography. Reeves comes across as a humble man, seemingly resigned to his brief time in the fluorescent sun. One must wonder, however, why Jayme wasn’t more interested in tackling some of the basic contradictions on offer. For example, how many ex-athletes who “really don’t miss the game”, as he claims, have their own pro-size basketball gym with a gigantic R circled at centre court?