LeBron James To Produce & Sydney Freeland To Direct Native American Basketball Movie ‘Rez Ball’ For Netflix

LeBron James just starred in the not particularly well received Space Jam: A New Legacy, but the poor critical reception for that belated sequel hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm about being involved in movies. He’s signed on to produce a Native American basketball movie titled Rez Ball for Netflix.

Sydney Freeland and Sterlin Harjo are developing the film, each co-writing the script with Freeland directing. The film is a coming-of-age sports drama inspired by Michael Powell‘s nonfiction sports novel, Canyon Dreams, as well as the New York Times articles that preceded it.

The film is being described as Friday Night Lights meets Hoosiers, and will explore the exhilarating world of reservation basketball or ‘Rezball,’ whose aggressive style, quick shooting and assertive defense looking to force turnovers through pressing or half-court traps has influenced top NBA teams and coaches throughout the years.

The story will revolve around the Chuska Warriors, a Native American high school basketball team from New Mexico who lose their star player, but must band together to keep their quest for a state championship alive. The film will focus on Navajo kids and coaches and be told by people from that community, as Freeland herself was born and raised on a Navajo reservation in Gallup, New Mexico.

“Basketball on the Rez is like high school football in West Texas,” Freeland said in a statement. “It has a fanatical following that few sports can rival. I’m also excited to be working with Sterlin Harjo on this. He has brought so much insight, humor, and heart to this story.

This is a story that’s commonplace on Indian reservations all over the U.S., but most people aren’t even aware it exists. What we want to do is bring people into our world, to tell a story about the people and places we know, and what better way to do that than through a sports movie?”

Maurício Mota, one of the Wise Entertainment producers, who are producing the film alongside James’ The SpringHill Company, added:

“Rez Ball aims to be a love letter to the contributions Native Americans have made to basketball and also a launchpad for Native talent both in front of and behind the camera, ready to make their mark in the industry. We want this to be a blueprint for how to balance excellent storytelling with impact and pipeline development.”

Freeland has already worked with Netflix before, having previously directed the film Deidra And Laney Rob A Train. She’s also helmed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Fear The Walking Dead, and will also write and direct episodes of FX’s upcoming comedy series Reservation Dogs, which follows four young Indigenous teens in rural Oklahoma.

Unsurprisingly, James’ SpringHill Company continues to be interested in basketball movies. Alongside Rez Ball and the new Space Jam, the company is also producing Adam Sandler‘s basketball-themed Netflix movie Hustle, as well as a House Party reboot for New Line.

Rez Ball sounds like an interesting film, and should be especially fascinating for basketball fans who want to know more about the origins of the current incarnation of the sport. Production will take place in New Mexico, and the film will be shot on actual reservations with the permission and support of the local sovereign tribal nations.


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