(The Field House at Chelsea Piers in lower Manhattan is to an athletic child as Wonka’s factory is to the holders of a golden ticket. The enormous building breaks down into four sections: gymnastics, indoor soccer, baseball batting and pitching cages, and basketball. The warehouse-meets-locker room is absent of nearly all decoration, save for some muted banners, schedules, and a dozen sugar-filed vending machines guaranteeing to refill any calories lost to exercise. Would-be gymnasts swing from bars and rings falling onto the quintessential blue of padded mats and pools of foam cubes. Young girls bounce from room to room in leotards in search of their parents. Teams of uniformed children populate the spectator holding pen outside the two plexi-glass and net-lined soccer fields waiting for their chance to take the field. They are the saplings to the tree trunks of the teenagers waiting on the batting cages and basketball courts. The words Chelsea Piers are written across the front of every soccer player’s jersey, except for one team. Arsenal is here in authentic glory, and the shimmering maroon jerseys stand out like a celebrity among the masses - as if Spike Lee or someone was here. And then in he walks with his son, Jackson).
Nameless teen-ager (NT): Hey Spike, can I have your autograph?
Spike Lee (SL): Sure, you got a pen?
SL: Ok, you got to find a pen.
(The nameless teenager runs to find a pen and momentarily returns. Spike silently signs his scrap of paper and then turns his attention back to his son and his bespoke team. The anxious kids bounce around the waiting area until they are aloud onto the field. The camera follows them around with a drunken feeling ((the camera swaying and circling back and forth in order to keep up with the kids)) but they always end up back at the feet of Spike. The camera cuts to black).
(Five days earlier at Soundtracks Studios on West 20th Street, Manhattan. Spike Lee, followed by a young reporter - let’s call him Adam - enters a small room. It’s not an office, not a waiting room. It has the institutional vibe of bulk-ordered furniture, neither luxurious nor cheap. Spike is dressed in a Hines Ward Pittsburgh Steelers jersey, blue jeans, and a cap. His droopy eyes and glasses add an air of friendly sophistication. After a short discussion of iPod voice recording technology, the conversation immediately turns to soccer).
Adam (A): I read you’re an AC Milan fan, and that you have season tickets.
SL: Not really. I didn’t buy them. They gave them as a gift. I’ve been to one game, about two years ago. I go to Milan a lot on business, but while I’m there they’re not in season or I’m there and AC is playing away. So they were like, here, we’ll just give it to you.
A: So you have season tickets… as far as you know?
SL: That’s what they tell me (big laugh). I believe them. It’s not really season tickets. They know I live here, so it’s like they just give ‘em to me.
A: A little misinformation there. Gotta love the internet. On that note, there’s been reports published that you put Theirry Henry in your next movie, The Inside Man. Before I ask you how that came about, I guess I should ask if that is even true.
SL: I don’t know where that started. No. no, no, no. (laugh) I don’t know where that started. It’s bullocks. (Big Laugh).
A: So is there any connection between the two of you?
SL: Yeah, Arsenal. That’s my team, but he aint in the movie. [Sol Campbell] came to the set, but none of them are in the movie. Sol was in town and ran into Clive Owen (who stars in The Inside Man with Denzel Washington), so he came to the set. Clive Owen is huge, so he just brought him.
A: Strike two! (Spike and Adam share a laugh. Spike shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “this is nothing new, people report this crap all the time.”)
A: Ok, so I’m almost afraid to ask this next question, but here we go. Internet rumor number three, although I must say I know this is trying to go down, but I’m not positive you are involved. Goal? A movie about a fictional Brazilian soccer phenom?
SL: Art Sims. He has done all the post-production on my films. From School Daze all the way up. He’s trying to get this film made, so I am trying to help him out. I’m not directing it.
A: Just helping him get funding then I’m guessing
A: One thing that made me want to talk to you was that through all these reports and articles, never was there a quote from you or anything that spoke to your experiences with and feelings about soccer. Can you speak to that for me?
SL: I’m a fan, but I’m not like a… I don’t know it like football, baseball, and basketball, but I can see the beauty of the game. Soccer is a great game, man. Hopefully it will grow here in the States. I follow it as much as I think I can. I got the satellite. It’s hard. You watch ESPN, and you don’t even get the scores. So what, it’s going to be every four years? But I look forward to going to Europe or South America. Just going to games is exciting. I went when Baggio missed that penalty kick. I’m hoping to go to Germany, but when I go, I roll Brazil. I mean, look. I know I’m African American, but I got a little Brazil. I’m not with the winners, I just love the way they play. You look at Italy, and I hate the way they play. I hate anything or athlete where you don’t play to win, but you play not to lose. I don’t like that. But I love soccer. My kid plays. Jackson. He’s eight. He plays at Chelsea Piers. I’m the assistant coach. We’re undefeated so far. Our team is Arsenal.
(We pick up back from the end of scene one; Spike Lee is engulfed in two diverging circles. When not surrounded by his son’s team, autograph seekers attach themselves like remora to a shark. Luckily, only the team and their coaches are aloud into the narrow area between the two fields, and once it is Arsenal’s turn, Spike Lee’s existence becomes much more father and coach than celebrity. He and the team’s coach, Lule Dyasi, a sharp-looking young man with dreadlocks brushing his shoulders, herd the players into some semblance of order. After some discussion and compromise between he and some of the staff, Adam gathers his camera gear and takes his place along side Lule and Spike on the sideline of the field, roughly 40 yards by 20 yards of green astro turf. It turns out to be harder to get permission to shoot children’s soccer than the US MNT. Luckily the staff compromises and allows Adam to remain until half time. The hectic playground soundtrack of the Field House fades out and up comes the voice of Spike Lee, speaking as the images of the team warming up continue to play).
SL: Last time I was in London, I got all the gear, so we’re the only team with jerseys. Everyone else has t-shirts, but we’re Arsenal. I was down in Buenos Aries before doing a BMW commercial, so last year we were Boca. The Boca Juniors. (Laugh). So we got the gear. It has to completely demoralize the other teams, because they just got the t-shirts. (Big Laugh). Last year my daughter was on the same team, but now she is taking drama classes. She’s a good athlete too. She’d get right in there and mix it up with the boys. Her name is Satchel, but she can’t throw. My son wants to be a director; my daughter wants to be an actress, but they love sports. But they’re not trying to play no pro ball. (Big Laugh) If they get a scholarship, I’ll be happy with that.
(The sounds of the field house return with the referee’s whistle. The teams take their positions and the game begins. Jackson, number 15, is placed at forward. The players are surprisingly adept at the game, moving into open space and maintaining their positions, albeit with kind instructions from the coaching staffs. They are, after all, only eight years old and it begins to show. They tire quickly from the incessant running and substitutions are made. You’d think just about any well struck ball on goal would find the back of the net, but both keepers are amazingly not afraid of the ball, throwing their bodies into it’s path and more often than not catching the balls that rise off the ground. The crowd acknowledges the keeper play. Even so, within minutes Arsenal is up 2-0).
(The volume of the game drops down, but does not go silent, as Spike’s voice returns).
SL: Sports is very important to me. Me and my wife, we don’t argue, we have discussions. She downplays the importance of sports. And I’m like sports is everything. Finance. Sex. Politics. Racism. Sexism, everything I mean. I think that if a person today doesn’t follow sports at least a little bit, they’re not informed on what’s happening in the world. Even if they don’t like sports, to know what’s happening in the world, you got to know something. To me, I’ve always been a sports fan. And I’ve never been afraid to voice who I like. Like in Do The Right Thing, we put Larry Bird on John Savage. And Mars Blackman had on the Knicks. And what did Mookie where? Jackie Robinson. We shot that in ‘88 and that was way before that throwback shit happened. It came out in 89, so sports are very important to me. Right now I’ve been raising money to start a sports journalism program at Morehouse (College in Atlanta and Spike’s alma mater). That is one of my big projects other than The Spike Lee Fellowship here at NYU (New York University). So, I loooove sports. It’s crazy. I love soccer. I love all sports. Well, sorry golf. I know Tiger is one of the greatest ever, but. I guess it’s a lot like some people look at baseball. It’s boring. That’s the way I feel about golf.
(Just as Spike begins to comment on golf the camera filming the soccer game zooms in on Jackson dribbling down the field. In the frame is a heavyset man with a few golf clubs in his hands walking past the Field House on route to the Chelsea Piers driving range. The camera pulls back as Jackson loses the ball. He retreats to a defensive position near midfield. The Ball bounces around until one deflection sends the ball in Jackson’s direction. With one touch from just short of the center line, the ball lifts on a line toward the goal…)
(The ball begins to fade into another ball, soaring in on a similar line toward a goal at another game in a foreign land. The ball is swiped by a diving goalie (a burly man), but the camera continues along the would-be trajectory of the ball, through the netting and up into the raucous stands, where we find Spike Lee sitting shirtless amid the madening crowd. As the camera swings around and above Spike, bringing the composition of the frame to show his bare back with the crowd and field in front of him, the images begin to move in slow motion. Spike’s voice returns drowning out the ambient crowd noise, which is now barely audible).
SL: I went to the Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Maca something (Maracanã Soccer Stadium). Seats 125,000 or something (set a record for attendance in 1950 with 199,854 – present capacity is around 100,000). I went there one year for a film festival. It’s crazy. They have barbed wire on both sides of the stadium to keep the fans apart. And then they have a moat around the field with guys holding Uzis and German Shepards. So, I’m just happy to go to the game. I don’t know who is playing. I buy a shirt. (HUGE LAUGH). And I put the shirt on. I’m ready. As luck would have it, I’m in the wrooooooooooong section to wear that shirt. And the people I’m with said, not only for my safety but for their safety, take… that… shirt… off! So I just sat there you know, topless, but alive. Because they don’t play. It’s like the Bloods, Crips, red and blue shit. You’ll get fucked up and don’t even know it. They’re crazy. (laughs). They do this thing when they score a goal and everybody comes running down to the front of the stands. It’s like an avalanche!
(As Spike talks, the camera zooms in over the barbed wire and over the moat onto the field. There is a bit of action as Spike finishes his story. A player dribbles at the top of the box, the camera angle over his shoulder. He strikes the ball toward the net and camera follows it until we fad back to Jackson’s shot at Chelsia Piers. His ball soars over the keeper’s hand just under the goal post and into the goal. Only with a trajectory toward the upper 90 could it have been more perfect. And either way, it counts the same. The crowd erupts).
(The film quickly breaks to post-game antics, the kids changing clothes to brave the cold New York winter. The team wins 6-1 and maintains its undefeated streak. Spike congratulates the opposing team’s goalie on a great game. More autograph seekers appear and enclose the director. He abides and quickly leaves, Jackson, now with a New York Rangers jersey on, and Adam, who now appears to be the family photographer, are by his side. The camera follows the three of them toward the exit, Adam stops to shake hands with Spike and gets a high five from Jackson, who runs back to retrieve some forgotten equipment. Spike is grinning with a joy the often-serious director rarely shows in public. The screen fades with Spike watching his young son scamper back the field as only a victorious young boy can do. The look in Spike’s droopy eyes is one that only a victorious father can have, but the victory is clearly on a different level from Jackson. This father - not this celebrity director, but this father is proud).