LeBron James-Richard Linklater documentary about Roberto Clemente set to premiere at SXSW

David Akerman
5 Min Read
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and director Richard Linklater are reportedly among the producers for an upcoming documentary about Roberto Clemente.

Clemente starred for the Pittsburgh Pirates for nearly two decades from the 1955 season through the 1972 campaign. He earned 15 All-Star appearances, one MVP and won two World Series titles among many other things. Born in Puerto Rico, Clemente spent much of his time doing charity work.

In fact, he tragically died in 1972 on his way to Nicaragua on board a plane that was taking supplies there. Supplies were needed in Nicaragua after an earthquake killed thousands of people. There were reports of early relief supplies being stolen by the Somoza regime, which prompted Clemente to help deliver a batch of supplies himself.

The plane he was on was “undermanned and overloaded.” It then crashed, shortly after takeoff

Despite being remembered in a pretty positive manner due to his actions on and off the field, Clemente experienced lots of trouble during his lifetime.

“Even Clemente’s greatest talents were turned against him in an America that viewed number 21 as already having three strikes against him: Black, Puerto Rican and outspoken,” wrote Stephen Rodrick. “Matter of fact, displaying his cannon arm earned him the slur of the ‘Puerto Rican hot dog’ in the Pittsburgh press.”

David Altrogge, the director the documentary that will premiere on March 11 at SXSW, spoke about what drew him to the project.

“I think in the last eight years or so there’s been a lot of darkness in the world,” Altrogge said. “It’s just the times can feel very bleak, very hopeless. I started trying to think of people who gave people hope and inspired them. I know that sounds corny, but Roberto answered the question.”

Arriving in Pittsburgh a little less than 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB’s color barrier, Clemente dealt with things like the anglicization of his first name to “Bobby” and being denied service in the Jim Crow South.

The documentary covers a lot about Clemente’s life.

“’Clemente’ is particularly adept at laying out how Clemente connected two places with seemingly little in common: rural Puerto Rico and the smokestack neighborhoods of Pittsburgh steelworkers,” wrote Rodrick. “The film includes the story of Roberto missing the team bus to the airport because he was signing autographs after a home game, getting a ride from a random fan and the two becoming lifelong friends.”

Clemente was apparently known for leaving his hotel room early and giving out coins to those less fortunate than him.

“He was balanced,” said Clemente’s son Roberto Jr. “He was not only a baseball player; he was a poet. He was a musician. He did pottery. He never got caught up in being a star.”

The one-time World Series MVP was seemingly looking out for those that would come after him. The elder Clemente’s middle son Luis spoke about how his father “demanded” respect.

“He demanded respect,” said Luis Clemente, who helps run a Clemente-inspired sports center in Puerto Rico. “He wanted to make sure that everyone else coming behind him would have that respect too.”

James helping produce a film about the sports world likely doesn’t surprise many. After all, it was reported in October that the four-time champion’s production company was working alongside those of NFL legend Peyton Manning and the Obama family to produce an NBA docuseries.

The Lakers star’s off-court work surely won’t disrupt his efforts on the floor. He’s looking to lead his team back to the NBA Playoffs after getting swept in the Western Conference Finals last season.

Back in 2020, James led Los Angeles to a title, something he’s hoping to do again this season.

Share This Article
David is a University of Maryland graduate who has spent most of his life in Miami. He has experience in writing, editing and video production. He is a proud contributor of Lakers Daily.