“My first visit to The Q with the Warriors was an experience I will never forget”
On a rainy Wednesday evening in the middle of May, Q Ball premiered in the Protestant chapel. The documentary chronicles the lives of some members of the San Quentin Warriors.
Two-time NBA Champion Kevin Durant is its executive producer through his company, Thirty Five Ventures.
“My first visit to The Q with the Warriors was an experience I will never forget,” Durant wrote via e-mail. “Despite their circumstances, the men were using basketball as a positive force and a way to keep going, which was really remarkable. With this documentary, we wanted to tell their stories… using basketball as the lens.”
“It’s an amazing film that creates a conversation about mass incarceration,” said the film’s producer, Rebecca Ferguson of Heist Projects.
As the film began for the 120-plus men and members of the production team from Heist Projects, Fox Sports and CNN, it didn’t disappoint.
It began with a heart-pounding, adrenaline- pumping, real-life 4 on 2 fight scene on The Q’s lower yard. That was followed by compelling images of blood soaked floors and chalked outlines of bodies; pictures of Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan and other notorious criminals and images of SQ’s infamous death row. Vivid images of ancient torture chambers are displayed on screen—a stark reminder of how dark this world can be during his monologue.
“SQ is a place where torture chambers were once used to rehabilitate people,” Public Information Officer Lt. Sam Robinson states.
The film stars Rafael Cuevas, who coached the SQ Warriors for two seasons (2017-18); recently paroled Harry “ATL” Smith; Chaplain Mardi Jackson;
Anthony Ammons, who was serving more than 100 years for a gang related murder before receiving a commutation from then Gov. Jerry Brown, reducing his sentence; Allen McIntosh, in for a gun possession; and play by play announcer Aaron “Showtime” Taylor, both whom are currently waiting for release through passage of Prop 57.
All of the men use their love of the game to help cope with the reality of serving long prison sentences. Each of these men goes through a process of discovering that basketball is more than just a game.
“Many of the guys should have been playing Division-1 basketball for some college, but for whatever reason—like many of us—we ended up here,” Taylor says in the film.
“Sports is always teaching life lessons that are bigger than what’s on the court,” said Mike Tolajian, the film’s producer. “Q Ball ended up being about these individuals’ journey to become better men.”
Tolajian received financing from Thirty Five Ventures, which signed him on to produce the feature film which aired on FS1 on May 28th, 2019.
Throughout this film there is laughter and applause.
Rahsaan Thomas reminisces about touching the NBA Championship trophy—“Neither Barkley nor Ewing got to touch it, but we got to party with that thing when the SQ Warriors beat the Warriors.”
The Q’s resident heckler, Caesar McDowell, stands on the sideline, calling the GS Warrior players “bums.”
Taylor explains how he gives each player a nickname suited to their style of play on the court.
“McIntosh is ‘PTSB’ (Programmed To Score Baskets) because he’s the all-time leading scorer for the Warriors. Smith is ‘The Phenom’ because I had never seen a guy like him in prison with his natural physical build and potential to get out and actually make it as a pro player. Ammons is ‘1⁄2 Man 1⁄2 Amazing’ for his ability to slash to the basket. Fourtnette is ‘Swaggy Smooth’ due to his effortless way of using his Euro-step to elude defenders on his way to a lay-up or dunk.”
There are also several moments in this film where the room becomes eerily silent.
As Cuevas relives the killing of Tim Griffith at Giants Stadium, original TV news footage and the tears of Griffith’s mother are shown onscreen, making this moment extremely raw and emotional.
Other sad moments in this film occur when Ammons talks about why he became involved with gangs and when Smith’s mother cries as she relives the moment of her son’s arrest, a son she thought had a promising NBA career ahead of him.
The soulful music of Eric “Maserati E” Abercrombie helps to capture the essence of what this film is about during those moments.
“There has to be a place that allows people the opportunity to redeem themselves,” LT. Robinson suggests. “The reality is 90% of California inmates are going to get out of prison. The question is, who do you want living next door to you: someone who has truly been rehabilitated? Or someone worse than they were when they entered the system?”
Ammons stated, after watching Q Ball, that he was excited about the future.
“I am excited about the film. I hope it changes kids’ lives, and show the world that we that committed crimes can better ourselves and become better men and citizens. But I also acknowledge those that come in every Saturday. Pat Lacy, Teon Connors, Pastor Miguel and Griffin take time from their families to teach us humanity. Giving yourself teaches us about humanity. It is not about money that changes people’s lives.”
McIntosh was asked about his favorite memory. “My most memorable moment? Getting a rebound dunk with Bob Myers, Warriors general manager, looking up at me and me holding the NBA trophy with Curt Lacob.” Asked about Mark Jackson, Warriors former head coach McIntosh said, “He has unbelievable passing skills.”
Jamal Green, who was thinking of quitting the team during filming, changed his mind when he saw Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers wearing a SQ Warriors jersey during a post-game interview. Green said, “Being a Warrior has been life changing, providing me with a platform that has been re- warding.”
SQ Warrior Dejon Joy was reflective: “I grew up in a re- ally tough neighborhood in San Diego. When I came out to play basketball, they told me I had next. And I am still waiting. I didn’t really play until I came to jail. In here, it has been my compass. When I say compass, it gives me direction away from the drama, prison politics and the everyday prison (expletive).”
Q Ball’s overall lesson teaches that basketball, and team sports in general, can help facilitate rehabilitation. Sports brings people together of all races and social classes who otherwise may never meet. It provides a sense of family, community and a strong support system where people can confide in one another. It can help build character and life skills that can be transferred into the real world.”
The film takes its audience on an emotional journey toward understanding the thing many people don’t understand: everyone has a story, and many of these stories can touch the soul. This film moves you. It makes you feel natural, human emotion. And it makes you believe in redemption.
—Salvatore Solorio, Leonard Brown and Malik Ali – all of the Journalism Guild – contributed to this story.