Professional basketball can be an incredibly lucrative sport, earning its stars millions of dollars and legions of fans. But for those who never make it to the top, life can be a far different story.
The Last Shot follows athletes playing basketball tournaments in Mexico for cash prizes in a last-ditch attempt to make it big in their sport and, in some cases, simply earn enough money to put food on the table.
Far removed from the glitz of the NBA, cash tournaments are held throughout basketball-mad Mexico, offering prize money that would amount to loose pocket change for pro stars but which is enough to entice players from the US who have been otherwise overlooked in major leagues. They provide an opportunity to make enough money to scrape by and keep fading dreams alive.
For some, like former high school standout Khalil McDonald, that dream is to earn a contract in the Mexican professional league after an acknowledged lack of dedication derailed a promising college career, hindering his shot at the big time.
For others, the story is slightly different, having missed opportunities through injury or plain bad luck. The result and goal are the same, with good quality players desperate to make the most of their unfulfilled talents and earn a decent living through sport.
Unfortunately, the US imports soon discover nothing in Mexico comes easy, playing tournaments in stifling heat, at high altitude, and in which fights, corruption and even the influence of cartels is common.
While some are playing with the hopes of earning the stability of a professional contract, others come to Mexico purely for the money. These players, known as mercenaries, have all but given up hope of a professional career in an established league, instead chasing dollars in games that offer no guarantees, and in which rules are lax and medical care is rudimentary, if not non-existent.
Teams of local players also compete, with the series following a mercenary team of Mexican brothers who travel from village to village looking for tournaments in an attempt to subsidise their meagre incomes. Love of the game often takes a backseat to each player’s need to survive.
With so much on the line for players and their families, this is high stakes sport and drama at its finest. The outcome of tournaments becomes indisputably thrilling as each game has the potential to crush a player’s dream completely or bring them one step closer to their goal.
Competing with basic equipment in harsh environments against desperate yet skilled opponents, the basketball is tough and uncompromising, played by athletes who refuse to give up on their dreams no matter the odds. They give their all in a potentially vain attempt to earn a living, impress scouts and gain a contract in Mexico, Europe or whatever league will have them.
Australia’s NBL is also touted as a possible option, with international players consistently attracted by the quality and professionalism of the league. Yet despite its history of signing talented imports, the NBL remains a dream out of reach for most on the Mexican cash circuit who are playing for scraps by comparison.
Skillful underground games played in tough and sometimes dangerous conditions – this is a side of sport few fans get to see or even know exists.
There may be more money involved in professional leagues, but for these players and their families, there has never been more at stake and never a better indicator of what athletes are willing to give for one last shot.
The Last Shot premiers Saturday 7 October at 7:40pm on SBS VICELAND.
Need more basketball? The NBL clash between the Sydney Kings and the Adelaide 36ers airs on Saturday 7 October at 5:30pm on SBS VICELAND.