[Sweetwater Clifton #1]

Raw footage for "Once a Star." Interview with Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, one of the first black players in the NBA and former Harlem Globetrotter.

0:00Copy video clip URL Open in cab lot. B-roll of surroundings. Sweetwater Clifton pulls in to the lot in his Yellow Cab, exits, and talks about practical details of the shoot with Tom Weinberg and Roger Wallenstein. They chat about Bill Veeck.

2:30Copy video clip URL Clifton explains how he got into cab driving – basketball didn’t pay enough back in his day (he started in 1950) to prevent players from needing a part time job during the season and a regular job during the off season. Clifton names some of the places where he has worked driving cabs.

3:36Copy video clip URL “What’s the best thing about driving a cab?” “I’ve got a lot of freedom… it’s not like a job where you have to go in to work every morning, 8-5.” “When do you usually work?” “I usually come in around quarter to seven, work till 6:00.” Says the job allows him to care for his mother, whom he usually checks in on 2-3 times a day. He describes his daily routine, explaining where he goes to find fares during each part of the day.

5:45Copy video clip URL When asked about the negatives of the job, he responds with mostly positives. “I meet people that I’d never see – some good ones, some bad ones… But you got to be something of a philosopher on people… You get in my cab and I say ‘Good morning’ and you don’t speak, I leave you alone, I know you don’t want to talk…” Says he has bad hearing, and some people can be a bit rough on him if he hears “60th and State” as “61st and State,” or if they think he’s trying to take a longer route than necessary. He says he doesn’t ever take people to the police if they don’t have money, he just wants them out of the cab. Explains that sometimes people recognize him as a basketball player. They ask if maybe he has a brother who is a basketball player, and when he says who he is, and they say, “No, you can’t be!” he merely responds, “I guess I’m not, then, if you say so.”

8:35Copy video clip URL Roger asks whether he has gotten robbed or attacked, since cab drivers are known to be targets for crime. He tells a story of a time he was robbed at gunpoint. The robber eventually figured out who he was, and left all but $8 of the $60 Clifton handed him on the back seat of the cab. Clifton says he recognized the guy as someone he used to play softball with, but said he understood that the guy must have been hard up, and was very touched by him leaving most of the money. “I think that out here you really have to be nice to people, because people are quick to kill you.” He says he will drive anywhere a passenger wants to go, because he doesn’t want them to think he’s a coward.

10:30Copy video clip URL “Weren’t you scared?” “I didn’t get scared till after he was gone… I thought that [the fact that the guy left the money] was beautiful.” “It doesn’t pay, out here in the streets, not to give up your money. You can get some money again, but you can’t get more life.”

11:21Copy video clip URL Cut to inside the cab. Clifton announces that he will drive them to his house. He says he is basically a lifelong Chicagoan, having lived here since age six. He went to Xavier University in New Orleans, a historically black university. “When I came along, there wasn’t too many blacks going to white colleges back then. That’s why I chose Xavier. That’s where all the ballplayers went.” He talks about being one of the first black players in the NBA. The story is sort of disjointed since the camera keeps cutting, mostly because of traffic noise.

15:40Copy video clip URL Clifton guesses that maybe one of the reasons they started seeking black players in the NBA was because attendance was low. The Globetrotters were popular, so they may have wanted to capitalize on the novelty of black players.

16:45Copy video clip URL Clifton points out the South Side Boys Club (which has since been renamed), where all the boys in the city used to come and play. He talks about the Collegians, a team in a special basketball league in the city before the Globetrotters. He then names some of the great ballplayers who came out of the city when he was young.

18:40Copy video clip URL On his style: “I could do what Michael Jordan do, but not as good… I was sorta like an all-around ballplayer.” He explains that while he was a very talented all-around ballplayer in the Globetrotters and before, he wasn’t allowed to shoot very much in the NBA, because they just didn’t shoot very often back then.

19:54Copy video clip URL They arrive at Du Sable High School and the tape ends.



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