The Legend of Swee' Pea is Ben May's first film and it's already won several awards at various festivals. It's officially being released today.
Lloyd Daniels was one of the most sought-after college basketball recruits in the 1980's, but he got busted buying cocaine in a police sting operation and two years later was nearly killed after getting shot three times in the chest while negotiating an expensive crack deal:
“Being a big sports fan, I am also a big fan of documentary film. It always seemed striking to me that no one made a documentary about Lloyd Daniels, because his story was one of the most dramatic stories for basketball... I couldn’t figure out why no one made a film on Lloyd “Swee’ Pea” Daniels.”
Much like New York Knicks legend Earl Monroe, Lloyd Daniels was a playground marvel, but the road to the NBA was much harder for Swee' Pea:
“Lloyd, when he was a top recruit, when he was in high school, he was already developing serious addiction to both, crack cocaine and alcohol as well. It really says a lot about him as a person, that he was able to overcome those things and go to the NBA. He stayed clean for a number of years.”
May's documentary even takes you to the home of the late UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian for some powerful scenes. It was during Daniels' trip to see "Tark The Shark" that the first cocaine bust occurred:
“The recruitment of Lloyd was so controversial. Lloyd had never graduated from high school. To go to a Division I school, the number one basketball school in the nation, having never graduated from high school there was a lot of legal loopholes that had to be jumped through. Which included the assistant coach, actually adopting Lloyd and was a legal guardian.”
May's better half helped get the project off the ground:
"I went to medical school in Minnesota, and it was really through the encouragement of my wife, she was like why don't you do it (a doc on Swee' Pea) and that's how we got started. We met a lot of great film makers along the way to help make it happen."
Despite all the setbacks, Lloyd Daniels still managed to make it to the NBA without having played a college game, with remnants of bullets still in his body, and with years of crack addiction behind him.
May says his film delivers a complex portrait not only of a rare talent and his against-the-odds triumph, but also of the unique street culture that made Lloyd Daniels a “playground legend” in New York City.
“When you meet Lloyd, everything is always positive. Nothing ever bothers him. He has this persona of being a tough guy, nothing ever bothers him.”
The Legend of Swee' Pea is filled with archival footage and candid interviews with Lloyd Daniels and many recognizable names in the basketball world. May says his documentary is officially being released today on Vimeo and others will follow in the next few weeks and months.
The director didn't shy away from the charisma ad charm of Daniels, but also showers the darker side of Swee’ Pea:
"When I first started making this film I thought it was pretty much just going to be a basketball story, a classic story arch of someone who resurrected himself and was redeemed at the end by going to the NBA. But Lloyd is a much more complex person than that. I think in order to tell an honest story and do honor to him as a person we had to tell the whole story of who he is, as a complex, interesting, powerful person with a lot of potential but at the same time some dark sides as well."
Click above to hear the 2015 SportsJam with Doug Doyle interview with director Ben May.