“At All Costs” Is The Single Best Documentary About AAU Basketball

The AAU basketball circuit is a world shrouded in secrecy.

This is by design – the powers that be (shoe companies, pro agents, AAU runners) prefer it that way…and their pockets are lined by keeping it that way. Hoop Dreams came out 22 years ago – a film that profiled the youth basketball world, and all its various consequences, and that captured a specific moment in time. It still stands as one of the most poignant documentaries in recent cinema history…but the modern reality reveals a landscape that has changed dramatically in the last two decades.

Enter At All Costs, which you can buy or rent here, a unique film that offers new insight on all the ways the world has changed in the last 20+ years. The traditional high-school focused system that made Arthur Agee and William Gates stars to movie fans has transformed in important, culturally relevant ways. This new entry into the hoops documentary catalog is an important and necessary film, offering new insight into the ways the world has been transformed by corporate influence.

The film takes a 360-degree look at the various entities that inform this new basketball breeding ground: the parents, the players and the travel clubs (and corporations who fund those teams). In 1992, the high school coach was the fulcrum around which any and all recruiting activity revolved. Fast forward to 2016: the most influential personalities are the AAU coaches – the men who control this youth talent. Where Jim Boeheim or John Thompson had to earn the confidence of a young player’s high school coach – the modern day superstar coach must cultivate a substantive relationship with that player’s AAU coach…or risk losing him to another coach who will.

Beyond the obvious recruiting implications, big corporations have exerted their big-wallet influence on this ever important sub-culture. One need not do more than visit Nike’s, Adidas’ or Under Armour’s elite grassroots events to personally witness the commercial influence these Fortune 1000 companies have brought to bear on the youth basketball infrastructure. Jumbotrons, NBA All-Stars sitting on the sideline, merchandise bursting from the seams. This new reality speaks to the main theme of At All Costs – the massive and undeniable influence of American capitalism on America’s youth basketball scene.

Mike Nicoll’s film shines a light on the professionalization of youth basketball in America. For those who are plugged into the 2016 election (and the crucial issues that the campaign revolves around), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our country makes everything about profit – including youth basketball. Whereas most would assume they’re tuning into a film that will shake its finger at the shadiness of the notorious AAU scene, the film pivots to a position that simply asks its audience: What does “amateur sports” even mean anymore?

In a world where we constantly question the legitimacy of the NCAA, At All Costs begs the question: where does this professionalization really begin? Maybe these kids aren’t cashing million-dollar checks, but between the invaluable exposure, branding opportunities, and celebrity that social media provides…what’s the difference? The film does a fabulous job asking its audience to consider the shades of grey between these answers. It’s not your traditional “Michael Moore” documentary that tells its audience how to feel…quite the contrary, it presents the world as it exists and it presumes a certain level of intelligence in its audience to discern the subtlety (and hypocrisy) of the modern day youth system. If you’re truly interested in where NBA stars are born (and bred), do yourself a favor and check the film out. It’s a worthy and compelling watch.

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