If anyone understands what it feels like to be overlooked, it’s Ja Morant. Though he’s now an NBA household name, he wasn’t always considered an elite-level hooper by any stretch of the imagination. It’s this journey, and his rise to stardom with the Memphis Grizzlies, that’s the subject of an impending docuseries titled Promiseland, which comes out on Crackle June 3 in North America and Europe.
“It’s going to show everyone where I’m from, what I’ve been through in terms of being a small town kid to being a first round pick to playing in the bubble and more.”.
As its title suggests, Promiseand is a coming of age tale that allows viewers to take a deeper dive into the 2019-2020 Rookie of the Year’s life prior to his professional career as well as his first season in the league. It was created and directed by Dexton Deboree — the founder of creative agency Falkon and the director of the award-winning feature film Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1. He is also the director of Will Smith‘s Best Shape of my Life documentary. “This series is going to allow me to tell my story”, Morant told HYPEBEAST. “It’s going to show everyone where I’m from, what I’ve been through in terms of being a small town kid to being a first round pick to playing in the bubble and more.”.
Like many other All-Star point guards in the league such as three-point marksmen Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, the Sumter native came out of high school as an unranked prospect, forcing him to generate his own noise by playing for a lesser-known basketball program at Murray State. Growing up, he was mostly trained by his father Tee Morant — a former high school teammate of NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen.Tee taught Morant the fundamentals of the game, and instilled in him a dog-eat-dog mentality: in episode one of the series, Morant reflects on memories of developing his skills with his father, mentioning “My dad was a hard trainer. He’s going to push you to your limits. He’s not gonna let you quit and the workout isn’t done until he says it’s done.”
Morant wasn’t scouted out at the EYBL — Nike’s top tier high school basketball circuit — or discovered through a viral YouTube mixtape. He was found by James Kane, Murray State’s assistant coach, who was instantly impressed by the guard’s skills and athleticism when he stumbled upon him playing 3-on-3 in an auxiliary gym in South Carolina. During his collegiate career, the 6’3 point guard went completely berserk on the hardwood, as he racked up averages of 24.5 points and 10 assists a night. “I felt like there were less distractions going to a small school,” he stated. “It allowed me to stay more locked in, and given that I had the right people around me in terms of coaches and fans, it was easy for me to be myself and be the best version of me on and off the floor.”
“For me being a young black man, you just hate to see everything that’s happened. It’s tough knowing that you have to be extra cautious when you step out outside nowadays, and having a daughter and a family that cares about each other just makes you hope that we’re all going to be safe and make it home at the end of the day.”
Morant’s first year in the league was unorthodox in every sense. It was smooth sailing to start off, as he was selected second overall in the 2019-2020 draft. However, he became a father just a couple of months before the regular season commenced, and a tumultuous series of events including the COVID-19 pandemic and the uproar of social injustice issues greatly affected his well-being. When speaking on the Black Lives Matter movement, he said, “For me being a young black man, you just hate to see everything that’s happened. It’s tough knowing that you have to be extra cautious when you step out outside nowadays, and having a daughter and a family that cares about each other just makes you hope that we’re all going to be safe and make it home at the end of the day.”
As much as this film shows all of the grit and grind that it took to make it into the league, it’s also an opportunity for fans to get a grasp of Morant’s character. “Ja symbolizes so many powerful things”, director Dexton Deboree tells HYPEBEAST. “What I knew going in was that he was a special young man, the ultimate underdog, overlooked, dismissed even by some and yet beyond all reason, proof, and reality he persevered. What I didn’t know was the real depth of his character – he’s so humble, selfless, compassionate, wise, honest, and giving and yet a total beast on the court. That combo of otherworldly talent, style, and swagger and yet humility and compassion really punched me in the gut.”
Given Morant’s tenacity and fearlessness on the court, there’s high hopes that he’ll one day become an MVP caliber player. Around him, he’s got a young and scrappy nucleus of teammates in Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valančiūnas, Dillon Brooks and more, and there’s no question that the Memphis Grizzlies are going to try and utilize Morant as a cornerstone for their franchise moving forward.
Currently, the bouncy point guard and his squad have themselves sitting at the ninth spot in the Western Conference, and will likely have to battle it out in the NBA’s new play-in system to clinch a berth in the postseason. However, if there’s anything that Promiseland confirms, it’s the fact that Morant is more than capable to take on that challenge.