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First trailer for 'Sweetwater,' on NBA pioneer and XULA grad Nat Clifton

(Briarcliff Entertainment)

The first trailer is out for the upcoming biopic “Sweetwater,” covering the life of Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton—one of the first Black players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and an alum of Xavier University of Louisiana, the nation’s Catholic HBCU.

Briarcliff Entertainment, which acquired the rights to the Martin Guigui-directed film last fall, released the trailer on Febuary 17.

“This has been a long time passion project (27 years),” Guigui told BCM.

“We are very familiar with Sweetwater’s connect to Xavier,” he added.

The film will cover Sweetwater’s rise from amateur stardom in Chicago’s high school hoops scene to his ascent to what is now the nation’s premier basketball league, during an era when segregation and racism still regulated much of the national sports scene.

Initially a member of an all-Black pro team following World War II, and later a Harlem Globetrotter, Clifton was signed to the New York Knicks in 1950 as the second African-American in NBA history. He made his debut the same year and helped lead the team to the NBA Finals, another Black first.

Clifton would make his first and only All-Star Game appearance in 1957 at the age of 34 and retired after the following season, having endured opposition from many White fans, coaches, and players—including some teammates—throughout his time in the league. He later worked as a cab driver, devoid of the NBA pension made available only to players who retired after 1965.

Clifton died of a heart attack in 1990 and was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014. XULA, his alma mater, inducted him into their Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022 in their inaugural class.

Guigui began planning a film on Clifton shortly after his death, founding Sunset Pictures studio in 2006 and slowly gaining traction with the effort beginning that year, gaining a number of stars for the cast. Financial hiccups brought on by the Great Recession halted production, however, and various casting changes came in the subsequent years.

“Sweetwater” eventually wrapped production in October 2022 and received a private screening during NBA All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City earlier this month.

Everett Osborne, who played in this year’s NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, will portray Clifton, with Cary Elwes, Jeremy Piven, Richard Dreyfuss, and Kevin Pollak in supporting roles. Grammy Award-winning musician Gary Clark Jr. and current NBA player Bobby Portis Jr. (from Clifton's home state of Arkansas) will also appear in the film.

In addition to the film’s arduous production process, Guigui and Sunset Pictures are facing a lawsuit from Clifton’s former team concerning intellectual property used to promote the film.

Earlier this month, Harlem Globetrotters International Inc. filed suit in the Northern District Court of Georgia, alleging that Sunset Pictures illegally used trademarks on social media belonging to the famed traveling basketball crew.

A request from the Globetrotters’ lawyers for an expedited hearing was denied on February 9, and it is unclear whether any further legal proceedings will take place before the film’s premiere.

“Sweetwater” will hit theaters nationwide on April 14.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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