MEDIA RELEASE: CINEFLIX PRODUCTIONS PARTNERS WITH EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR & DEBORAH MORALES ON FOUR-PART BASKETBALL SERIES THE PIONEERS
Reflective Docuseries to Tell the Story of Segregation, Integration,
and the Evolution of the NBA
Chuck Cooper, Earl Lloyd, Nat Clifton… Most NBA players and diehard superfans wouldn’t recognize the names of these influential Black basketball forerunners who paved the way toward integrating the sport. But we soon can watch their incredible stories unfold in The Pioneers—a four-part docuseries in the works from multi-award-winning Cineflix Productions in partnership with six-time NBA MVP, Hall of Famer, and social activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his longtime business partner of 30 years, Deborah Morales of Iconomy Multi-Media & Entertainment.
The Pioneers will reveal the complete off-the-court story behind basketball’s racial integration, beginning with the Boston Celtics’ surprising second-round selection of Cooper during the 1950 NBA draft. Breaking the color barrier, Cooper’s pick was met with severe pushback during a harsh racial climate, but it would also open doors for other Black players to make the league, including Lloyd and Clifton, whose journeys will be revealed in the docuseries.
The production team will have unprecedented access to the Chuck Cooper Foundation and its archives, as well as the backroom maneuvering in the battle for justice, including in-depth interviews with the sport’s leading luminaries. Holding the record as the longest-standing activist athlete in history, series executive producer Abdul-Jabbar also will be interviewed on camera to frame the dual nature of basketball’s story through time—one of success layered with struggle and setbacks.
“Isaac Newton wrote, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Cooper, Lloyd, and Clifton are some of the giants whose shoulders I stood on to be able to have the career and life I have had. I pay grateful homage to them every time I fight for social justice for others,” says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“When we first looked at the stories of Cooper, Lloyd and Clifton, it struck us how little we all knew about these three incredible trailblazers, and we weren’t alone,” says J.C. Mills, President and Head of Content at Cineflix Productions. “The Pioneers will pay homage to these game changers and their successors, who, against all odds, have braved racism while propelling themselves to stardom. We are honored to have one of those successors, NBA legend and Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as a part of this project to give us the play by play as he experienced it firsthand.”
“It’s important to me that we celebrate the people in history who sacrificed so much so that others could live their dreams. Part of celebrating them is to make sure they don’t get lost in a climate that is trying to erase the achievements of People of Color. That’s why I am so committed to this project,” adds Deborah Morales, Iconomy Multi-Media & Entertainment.
“The evolution of the NBA uniquely mirrors that of the country from the 1950s through today,” says Robin Keats who brought this project to Cineflix with Michael Harris. Harris’ father, Chris, was a close friend and teammate of Chuck Cooper’s on the St. Louis Hawks.
The Pioneers will be produced by Cineflix Productions. Executive producers include J.C. Mills for Cineflix, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Deborah Morales, Robin Keats, and Michael Harris.
It’s been a busy time for Cineflix Productions, with a slate that includes Summer Qamp, a touching profile of Camp fYrefly, an arts-based retreat for LGBTQIA2S+ youth in the Canadian Rockies, and the critically acclaimed, Nancy Buirski-directed Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy, which follows the behind-the-scenes odyssey to get the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy made. Cineflix Productions also previously announced a partnership with seven-time GRAMMY® winner Gladys Knight and her Empress of Soul Productions to develop a scripted miniseries based on the artist’s illustrious life and career, as well as the development of four-part premium documentary anthology The Descendants, which will embark on a global journey with the families of Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr.