The experiment was dreamed up by two fathers, one white, one black. What would happen, they wondered, if they mixed white players from an elite Seattle private school – famous for alums such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates – and black kids from the inner city on a basketball team? Wouldn’t exposure to privilege give the black kids a chance at better opportunities? Wouldn’t it open the eyes of the white kids to a different side of life?
The 1986 season would be the laboratory. Out in the real world, hip-hop was going mainstream, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson ruled the NBA, and Ronald Reagan was president. In Seattle, the team’s season unfolded like a perfectly scripted sports movie: the ragtag group of boys became fast friends and gelled to win the league championship. The experiment was deemed a success.
But was it? How did crossing lines of class, race, and wealth affect the lives of these ten boys? Two decades later, Doug Merlino, who played on the team, returned to find his teammates. His search ranges from a prison cell to a hedge fund office, street corners to a shack in rural Oregon, a Pentecostal church to the records of a brutal murder. The result is a complex, gripping, and, at times, unsettling story.
The Hustle, in the vein of Michael Apted’s Up series, tells the stories of ten teammates set before a background of sweeping social and economic change, capturing the ways race, money, and opportunity shape our lives. A tale both personal and public, The Hustle is the story a disparate group of men finding – or not finding – a place in America.