On the new basketball documentary ‘The Street Stops Here’

A powerful new documentary examines the legacy of St. Anthony High School coach Bob Hurley

Jay Sharman (left) and Rashon Bruno, the men behind 'The Street Stops Here'
The men behind The Street Stops Here: Jay Sharman (left), founder of TeamWorks Media, and Rashon Burno, a coach at Marmion Academy in Aurora

 

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It was 1996, and Rashon Burno had been benched for the biggest game of the season, a matchup against a teenage phenom named Kobe Bryant. A winter storm had blanketed the East Coast, and thinking it was a snow day, Burno and another starter on the basketball team didn’t show up for classes at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. With a 66-game winning streak and number one national ranking on the line, some coaches might have been tempted to give their star players a pass. Not Bob Hurley Sr. “I’m not about to bend the rules,” Hurley explains. The reserves stepped up, and the team won the game anyway.

“I didn’t realize it was the right move until I was grown with kids,” admits the fiercely competitive Burno, 31, who went on to play at DePaul University and now coaches high-school basketball at Marmion Academy in west suburban Aurora. “It was about accountability; nobody is bigger than the program.”

Hurley has been delivering life lessons like these for decades at St. Anthony—a tiny, cash-strapped Catholic school that sits a three-pointer away from some of New Jersey’s worst neighborhoods. The Street Stops Here, a new documentary from Chicago-based TeamWorks Media, paints an inspiring portrait of the coach and his tough-love approach, which has sprung hundreds of kids from a cycle of crime and poverty. (It premieres on March 31st at 9 p.m. on PBS.)

Hoops fans may know the 62-year-old Bob Hurley because of his oldest son, Bobby, who played for his father before winning two NCAA titles as Duke’s point guard in the early 1990s. But the elder Hurley’s coaching success is staggering on its own merits: 900-plus wins, countless state titles, and three USA Today national championships. However, he’s most proud of one statistic: Despite limited resources—St. Anthony doesn’t even have its own gym—over 37 seasons, only two of his players have failed to reach college.

The Street Stops Here chronicles the journey of Hurley’s 2007-8 squad—one of the most talented groups ever to don the maroon and gold of St. Anthony—as they vie for the state championship. Members of the team will be familiar to this year’s NCAA basketball tournament audience: The guard Tyshawn Taylor currently starts as a sophomore for Kansas; Dominic Cheek is a freshman guard at Villanova.

Filled with intense rivalries and above-the-rim action, The Street Stops Here has the trappings of a classic sports documentary. But like the landmark 1994 release Hoop Dreams, the film’s human elements prove most compelling. (The Chicago-based director of Hoop Dreams, Steve James, provided his input on an early cut of the film.) Troubled teens battle the realities of the inner city. The school’s financial struggles are compounded by the Wall Street collapse. Fighting to hold it all together is Hurley, a product of the same Jersey City streets as his players, whose basketball program is St. Anthony’s primary fundraising vehicle.

A former probation officer, Hurley doesn’t coddle his students, despite their difficult backgrounds. “I don’t think there’s a kid who left St. Anthony who doesn’t think I’m the most demanding person they’ve ever come across,” Hurley says in the film. Instead of celebrating when his team is named number one in the country, he wears them down with sprints. When the leading scorer, Mike Rosario, is slapped with two technical fouls for hanging on the rim, Hurley gets in his face and refuses to let up. He regularly launches into expletive-filled tirades that would make characters from The Sopranos blush. All are psychological tactics employed to keep his players grounded and to demonstrate that, in basketball and in life, every action has consequences.

“These kids come from tough circumstances; they’ve seen a lot of things already,” says the film’s Chicago-based director, Kevin Shaw. “They know their lives are going to be better if they can survive that experience. . . . You can debate whether the method is right or wrong, but you can’t debate the success.”

Perhaps no former player validates Hurley’s tough-as-nails approach better than Burno, who grew up in the now-demolished Duncan Projects, one of New Jersey’s most notorious public housing complexes. Standing in the spacious gym at Marmion Academy, he tells how his mother died when he was seven and how, as the middle child of five siblings (Burno never knew his father), he essentially raised himself. “[Hurley’s] respect outweighed anything else I had. Here’s a guy I put on a pedestal. He was my ticket out,” Burno recalls. “That was my motivation as a young basketball player: I’ve got to get out.”

The film was Burno’s idea. He had met Jay Sharman, the founder of TeamWorks, during the filming of The Demons Within, about the 1999-2000 DePaul basketball team. Six years later, Burno called the documentarian. “He said, ‘I’ve seen a lot of these reality shows on TV, and the stories just don’t seem to have the elements that the St. Anthony story does,” recalls Sharman.

Hurley and the school had already been the subject of a book, The Miracle of St. Anthony. But the constant presence of a camera crew—more than 400 hours of footage was compiled over the school year—would be an altogether different experience, especially for a coach who prides himself on steering impressionable kids away from off-the-court distractions.

“I gave it a little bit of thought because it is intrusive,” says Hurley. “And when you’re dealing with adolescents, there are going to be some situations which are not necessarily volatile but almost should be private in nature. But if it’s going to be a true documentary, you can’t say, ‘It’s off the record.’ ” Burno’s connection to the project helped sway Hurley’s decision, as did the potential fundraising benefits of increasing the name recognition of the school.

Ultimately, everyone involved with the film shares one hope: that the school can stay open. “The kids crave his leadership, his mentorship,” says Burno. And when there’s one man willing to lead them, there’s no limit to how far they can go.

 

Photograph: Thomas Chadwick

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