Directed by T.J. Regan and Josh Kahn.
Gap Year Review
Professional sports are a tremendous source of entertainment, but it’s the behind-the-scenes drama revolving around the business aspect of organizations such as the NFL and NBA that remain endlessly fascinating. As fans, we aren’t often privy to the backdoor deals, business talk and organizational factors young athletes must endure all the while fighting to stand out amongst thousands of other athletes in the hopes of landing a big contract — we take their hard work for granted.
Gap Year is a fascinating documentary that follows rising basketball star Darius Bazley as he attempts to enter the NBA draft via his own unique method. See, most high school talents commit to a university where they play for, at minimum, one season before making the leap to the big show. The issue with this is that the players 1) don’t receive pay for their time in college and 2) risk an injury that could swiftly derail their NBA dreams.
The money issue has been a hot debate for some time now. One side believes these young athletes do get paid to play via free tuition and scholarships at really expensive colleges, while others feel these players deserve a slice of the money colleges reap from their talent. Gap Year touches on this issue via interviews with former commissioner David Stern, Klutch Sports Group founder Rich Paul, ESPN’s Jay Williams and Jay Bias, among others, but mostly uses the discussion as a base to launch its true narrative: Bazley’s unorthodox rise to the NBA.
In the film, Bazley, a five-star recruit, shocks the world when he de-commits from Syracuse University in favor of a million-dollar internship with New Balance — a shoe company itching to get out from the shadow of Nike, Reebok and its own “dad shoe” label. The opportunity helps both parties. New Balance gets to work with a potential superstar while Bazley makes money as he prepares to enter the NBA.
More than that, New Balance benefits from Bazley’s insights; and there are a couple of great scenes featuring the basketball prospect openly gathering opinions from young athletes regarding their preferred shoe style.
As for Bazley, he gets to work in a professional environment alongside the likes of Jaden Smith; and get a taste of corporate work. Sure, the internship only lasts for three months, but, as one of his manager states, Bazley quickly became one of the crew and was expected to work traditional hours — certainly, the film argues, a more valuable experience than he would receive from one year at college.
Naysayers suggest he missed out on valuable professional basketball experience by taking the non-traditional route. Indeed, Bazley was selected 23rd overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2019 draft. Would he have gone higher had he played one year of college ball? Or possibly even lower?
Making the leap into professional sports takes more than just amazing skills. If anything, the ruthless environment — filled with greedy agents, no nonsense coaches and overeager players — requires a player to surround himself with the right crew; and take advice from people who (hopefully) have his best interest at heart. One misstep or ill-timed decision could leave even the likes of LeBron James (himself an athlete recruited right out of high school) missing out on their true potential. In this case, Bazley’s gamble paid off, but that was certainly a long wait to pick 23.
Gap Year is, admittedly, quite short at just 50 minutes. It would have been cool to see Bazley’s journey continue into his first NBA season or learn a little more about his person — his home life, high school successes, etc. As it stands, the documentary raises fundamental questions that are sure to raise (or re-raise) discussions about an ongoing topic that will likely never be solved. Even if it feels more like a resounding “fu**k you” to college sports than a documentary about one man’s unorthodox path to success.