Historical narratives are often obscured in plain sight. 

A trip to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame decades ago compelled award-winning filmmaker Martin Guigui, writer and director of the upcoming biopic “Sweetwater,” to learn more about the late Nathaniel (Nat) “Sweetwater” Clifton, a pioneering NBA figure in 1950. Clifton, Chuck Cooper, and Earl Lloyd became the then-fledgling league’s first Black players.

The movie was filmed primarily in the San Francisco Bay area and will debut nationally in theaters on April 14. 

“When I first came across the story [of Sweetwater Clifton] in 1995, I was visiting the Basketball Hall of Fame for the first time and there was information, but not enough,” Guigui, 57, said via Zoom on Tuesday. “It said that Earl Lloyd was the first African American to play a game. But then it also mentioned Chuck Cooper as the first drafted and Nat Clifton as signing the first contract. I said ‘That’s cool that there were three,’ but I wanted to know how that happened. I got kinda obsessed with it.”

Particularly with Clifton. 

Guigui, a pianist, violinist, and blues artist, is the son of symphony orchestra conductor Efrain Guigui and was reared eclectically. He was born in Buenos Aires and experienced his formative years in Puerto Rico, the Upper Westside of Manhattan, and Vermont. He spent countless hours playing basketball on the blacktops of Manhattan, and continued to engage in the sport competitively through high school and college. 

He learned that Clifton, the first Black player for the New York Knicks, was a 6-8 power forward and a standout at Xavier University in the early 1940s, excelled with the New York Rens from 1945–47, and was a featured member of the Harlem Globetrotters from 1947–50 before a legendary career with Knicks from 1950–57. 

The England, Arkansas, native attended DuSable High School in Chicago, was a WWII veteran, and was a notable pitcher in the Negro Leagues. 

Everett Osborne, who stars as Clifton in the movie, said the film was n opportunity to educate the masses about an important part of American history is an honor. 

“Martin Guigui has been working on the film for 28 years,” said the 29-year-old Los Angeles native, who played college basketball for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, from which he graduated with a BA degree in psychology before embarking on a professional playing career in New Zealand and Australia. 

 “I am standing on the shoulders of a real human being. Whether you play basketball or not, you will be affected by Nathaniel ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton’s story. I am just thankful now is the time we’re sharing it with the world,” Osborne said. “It doesn’t hit just one diaspora. Humanity holds an interdependence on one another, so if one is affected, we’re all affected. If one is enslaved, we’re all enslaved. If everyone is free, we’re all free.”

According to Guigui, “Everett, needless to say—it’s like he was born to play this role,” said Guigui. “It was meant to be. There was this spirituality that he and I connected on. Similar upbringings and similar values about why we’re here…Our purposes were validated. 

“I loved his audition. It was wild to see that he was like, it was like a calling for him…”

Guigui recalled that “we got hundreds of submissions…the usual suspects in Hollywood called and they were like, ‘I wanna do this,’ and I was like ‘I get it, I get it.’ It has to feel right. 

“We got hundreds of submissions from NBA players, ex-NBA players, retired NBA players, and college ball players…I knew that Everett had done his homework. I knew that it was something deeper than just…a role and a movie.”

Everett has a strong conviction that there is a profound meaning in his portrayal of Clifton. 

“Seeing the art of service of this human being. Seeing that during his time going through discriminatory situations as a Black man,” he said. “Sweetwater carried himself with self-respect, with values…That higher purpose of a belief system is something I grabbed from him and I think the world will, too.”

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