January 10, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Josh Kahn and T.J. Regan
Culture Representation: Taking place in Boston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Charlotte and Cincinnati from June 2018 to June 2019, the documentary “Gap Year” features a group of African Americans and white people representing the middle-class and wealthy in this chronicle of basketball player Darius Bazley’s year after he graduated from high school and before he found out if he would be drafted into the National Basketball League (NBA).
Culture Clash: Bazley gets praise and skepticism for his decision to accept a $1 million internship from New Balance during this “gap year.”
Culture Audience: “Gap Year” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in stories about how basketball players prepare for the NBA.
The documentary “Gap Year” sometimes comes across as a gimmicky marketing ploy for New Balance, but it’s still an enjoyable watch because of basketball player Darius Bazley, the movie’s engaging star. The documentary chronicles what happened in the year after Bazley graduated from high school and did a marketing internship with Boston-based sports footwear/apparel company New Balance while he trained for the NBA. This wasn’t just any internship: New Balance paid Bazley a $1 million salary for this internship, with the idea that it was a starter salary for Bazley to be a New Balance spokesperson if he ended up becoming a star in the NBA.
Directed by Josh Kahn and T.J. Regan, “Gap Year” has a breezy 75-minute total run time. It’s just about the right amount of time to tell this story, which ends in with Bazley finding out in June 2019 if he got drafted into the NBA or not. “Gap Year” begins in June 2018, when Bazley (a native of Cincinnati) has graduated from high school and is considered a hot prospect for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the traditional stepping stone to get into the NBA.
However, Bazley doesn’t want to go to college. He wants to be drafted into the NBA within two years after graduating from high school. It’s a bold and risky move that has paid off for only a small percentage of NBA players—most notably, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.
As NBA analyst Jay Williams (a former Naismith College Player of the Year) comments on the NCAA to NBA rule: “We live in a society where everybody abides by the rules. And we don’t even know what the rule is or where it came from. They just abide by it.” Williams adds that Bazley’s decision to take a year off from the NBA G League to train while doing the New Balance internship was “the most fascinating and disruptive thing I’ve ever seen in basketball.”
ESPN college basketball/NBA draft analyst Jay Bilas says, “When [Kevin] Garnett and Kobe [Bryant] came out, I think people were still having a hard time—myself included—wrapping their head around the idea of a high school kid going into the NBA.” David Stern, who was the NBA’s commissioner from 1984 to 2014, comments: “I think at the time, my own view was that we didn’t want out scouts in high school gymnasiums.” Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association union, offers a different point of view on the NBA recruiting players right out of high school: “Frankly, I don’t see the difference between that and seeing them in a college gym.”
Rich Paul, CEO of Klutch Sports Group, which represented Bazley during this post-high-school transition, has this to say about Bazley bypassing college to get to the NBA: “I believe college is necessary for most kids. It was truly about trying what’s best for Darius.” The movie shows some footage of Bazley in gyms with basketball trainer Mike Mills in Memphis and basketball trainer Pierre Sully and physical trainer Bryan Doo in Boston. However, the majority of the documentary footage is showing Bazley’s internship at New Balance headquarters in Boston.
In January 2019, Bazley temporarily moved to Boston, where he was given corporate housing at an apartment bulding, with all expenses paid for by New Balance. His internship was only for a three-month period, but he was expected to learn a lot of the ins and outs of marketing for New Balance, particularly in the launch of new products. Not only was it Bazley’s first time living away from home but it was also his first office job.
As expected, Bazley experienced some culture shock. On his first day on he job, Bazley had to call his manager because Bazley didn’t know how to fill out a tax form. And being a tall, African American teenager, he stood out in an office environment consisting of mostly white people who are older than he is. A few of the white female employees seem intimidated by Bazley at first when they interact with him, possibly because of his race but also possibly because he’s so tall.
Still, Bazley seems to sense that he won’t adjust easily to this office environment because although people are friendly to him, they don’t seem interested in becoming his “work friend.” He’s also visibly uncomfortable using computers when he first arrives on the job, which makes you wonder what kind of education he got in high school to not be familiar with using computers as a high school graduate. Bazley is willing to learn what he’s taught on the job, which is a good sign that he’ll have the right attitude in the real world of professional careers.
Later in the documentary, Bazley settles into a work routine that he admits is lonely: He comments that after work, he spends time in his apartment alone, and it’s not unusual for his dinner to consist of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Klutch Sports CEO Paul says in an on-camera interview that he purposely left Bazley alone during this internship because he didn’t want to coddle Bazley. “One of the things I want is for him to align himself with his good habits,” Paul comments.
Being a restless teenager, Bazley does gripe a little about the monotony of an office job. The documentary show a few things that break up his routine. In February 2019, Bazley went to Charlotte for the NBA All-Star Weekend, which was a great motivation for his NBA dreams. It’s easy to see that because of the business knowledge he gained in the internship, Bazley is now equipped to making better-informed decisions about endorsement deals than if he didn’t have that behind-the-scenes internship experience.
In another scene, entertainer Jaden Smith visits New Balance headquarters for a meeting about a collaboration. Bazley gets to hang out a little bit with Smith during this meeting and says he’s impressed with Smith’s maturity. Bazley also seems to enjoy himself at a New Balance focus group at a high school in Lawrence, Massachusetts. It’s at this focus group (when he’s around people in his age group) that Bazley seems to enjoy his internship the most, because he can see how the focus group has a direct impact on marketing decisions.
After his internship ended, another big day for Bazley was in May 2019 at Klutch Pro Day in Los Angeles, where he sees firsthand how deals are made for pro athletes to get endorsement deals. It’s an eye-opening experience that gives him a sneak preview of what types of opportunities can come his way if he makes it into the NBA. Although this type of dealmaking might be nothing new to viewers who know the business of sports, what “Gap Year” does very well is convey Bazley’s perspective of someone who’s new to it all.
When it comes to his basketball skills, Bazley is confident but not arrogant. His personality is a little bit on the quiet side, but he has a lot of positive energy that makes him very easy to like. His family is briefly shown in the documentary, but the documentary very much keeps the focus on the “coming of age” journey for Bazley, who goes through the adult rite of passage of living away from parents for the first time. Other people interviewed in “Gap Year” include New Balance global marketing director Patrick Cassidy; Klutch Sports employee Brandon Cavanaugh; rapper Dave East, who’s labeled in the documentary as a “former Amateur Athletic Union standout”; New Balance global marketing manager Sean Sweeney; and former Bleacher Report editor-in-chief Ben Osborne.
People who are expecting “Gap Year” to be mostly about basketball training sessions might be disappointed. And the movie doesn’t do anything very spectacular when it comes to cinematography or editing. However, “Gap Year” is a very interesting chronicle of one teenager’s journey to be a nonconformist when it comes to pursuing his NBA goals. The documentary is best appreciated as a story where professional basketball is a catalyst but not the main reason why a child becomes an adult.
1091 Pictures released “Gap Year” on digital and VOD on December 1, 2020.