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Remembering “The White Shadow”

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

From powerful dramas to laugh-a-minute sitcoms, we all have our favorite sports-themed TV series. Remember Craig T. Nelson in “Coach”? There was also “Friday Night Lights,” “Arliss,” “First & Ten,” “Hang Time” and “Ballers.” But in terms of relevance and sheer writing quality, perhaps the best fictitious sports-themed series on the small screen was a critically-acclaimed drama that aired on CBS from 1978 to 1981: “The White Shadow.”

Created and produced by Bruce Paltrow (father of actress Gwenyth Paltrow), “The White Shadow” starred Ken Howard as “Ken Reeves,” a former NBA player whose career was cut short by injury. Reeves takes a job coaching the boys basketball team at Carver High, a predominately African-American school in South Central Los Angeles. Reeves, who is white, works to build a winning team as well as help his players deal with the struggles of life in an impoverished city.

The players include Warren Coolidge, a tall and talented post player who has his sets on playing ball at the next level; Morris Thorpe, a wise-cracking point guard and team leader; and James Hayward, a thoughtful young man who is equally ambitious and cynical. Their teammates include Mario “Salami” Petrino, Milton Reese, Curtis “CJ” Jackson, Ricardo “Go-Go” Gomez and Abner Goldstein.

The hour-long drama takes on numerous real-world (and, at the time, controversial) subjects such as alcoholism, gangs, guns, homosexuality, STDs, domestic violence and more.

The producers and writers of the series would go on to develop similarly acclaimed dramas such as “St. Elsewhere” and “Hill Street Blues.”

The first two seasons of “The White Shadow” are available on DVD. Several complete episodes have been uploaded on YouTube. Give it a watch!

The first clip below is a short documentary on the series. The second is a complete episode where one of the Carver players struggles with substance abuse.

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