NBA Star Chris Paul will executive produce a new ESPN+ docuseries about one men’s basketball team at an HBCU. The NBA Star has historically championed Black colleges and universities, working with Harvard Business School last year to create a North Carolina A&T entertainment, media, and sports curriculum and most recently rocking a different school on his sneakers during each game last fall in the league’s Orlando bubble.
On February 12, Why Not Us: North Carolina Central University Men’s Basketball will be the first premium project to debut under The Undefeated on ESPN+, a partnership between the streamer and its race- and culture-focused sister brand.
The idea for the eight-episode series came from Paul’s company Ohh Dip!!! The filming started in the fall of the 2020-21 college basketball season amid the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic. To help promote the series, Paul also shot one-on-one conversations with famous HBCU alums, including Morehouse’s Spike Lee and Howard’s Taraji P. Henson.
Paul told The Hollywood Reporters, “Everyone in my family went to HBCUs except me. I grew up with every HBCU sort of in my backyard.” North Carolina, where Paul is from, is home to 11 HBCUs, including the Winston-Salem State namesake of his hometown. But instead, he played college ball for Wake Forest, which is part of the conference of the basketball powerhouse ACC.
He added, “Even though I grew up right there with all those HBCUs, they didn’t really recruit me because they didn’t think they had a chance,” says Paul, who is now pursuing a degree at Winston-Salem State. “When I was coming up, you felt like you had to attend a PWI [predominantly white institution] in order to be seen.”
Recruitment matters because a school’s ability to land top recruits is contingent upon not just its on-court fortunes but also its ability to draw new talent and capital and fundraising. HBCUs have historically remained on the sidelines as the most talented young athletes in the country, many of them Black, committed to PWIs, inspiring boosters and raising the chances of postseason glory. In essence, these college athletes lose out on the potential of an educational and social experience special to the culture of HBCU.
The docuseries comes at a time when HBCUs are receiving mainstream exposure, both in sports and beyond. ESPN+ Original Content and ESPN Films vice president and executive producer Brian Lockhart said, “Look at the impact that HBCUs are having on society as a whole,” Referring to Howard freshman Makur Maker and Howard alumna Kamala Harris. “It’s an unexplored reservoir of stories. This series hopes to give a deep sense of a program that lives in the shadows of bluebloods like North Carolina and Duke but has equally as impressive a record of success right down Tobacco Road.”
Ohh Dip!!! is partnering with Roadside Entertainment to produce Why Not Us alongside Mr. SAS Inc. (production shingle of ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, a Winston-Salem State grad). The hope is for the inaugural season to spawn a franchise that will delve into other sports and other aspects of HBCU life. “We can see this franchise branch out to step teams, dance squads,” says Lockhart. “Competition and athleticism exist inside of HBCUs in a lot of different flavors.”