When professional basketball player Ken Reeves sustains a career-ending injury, he accepts a job as basketball coach at a Los Angeles inner-city high school. Now, in his second year at Carver High, he realizes he's become more than just a basketball coach. He's the person his players can turn to when things go wrong at home, or when things get tough out on the street. Clashes still arise highlighting the differences between the world Coach Reeves knows and the tough neighborhoods where his players live, but ultimately the bond between coach and player is strengthenedand the daily hardships they face become a true learning experience for all.
The White Shadow's sophomore year, its last with the series' original roster, is a winning season as the inner city Carver High School basketball team, led by former Chicago Bulls forward Ken Reeves (Ken Howard), further share "the unique joys and sorrows experienced in organized sport." To quote an aspiring sportswriter in the season opener, "On the Line," it's the "blending of friendship, teamwork, discipline, and trust that makes this unit what it is." The Carver team will be tested on and off the court in their run for the city championship. Several episodes take an authentically gritty look at such hot-button issues as sports betting ("On the Line"), race ("Albert Hodges," "Links"), child abuse ("The Hitter"), sexually transmitted diseases ("Me?"), inappropriate teacher-student extracurricular activities ("Salami's Affair"), and the scourge of drugs ("Gonna Fly Now"). But it is the hard-earned life lessons that put The White Shadow in a class by itself. In "Globetrotters," a good team goes astray with bad sportsmanship after a winning streak, prompting Reeves to recruit an incognito Harlem Globetrotters to give his players a much-needed comeuppance. Tragedy strikes in two of the season's most memorable episodes. In "Sudden Death," Reeves is guilt-stricken after a promising player he encouraged to join the team suffers a fatal aneurysm during practice ("I hope very much this burdens you for the rest of your life," the boy's unforgiving mother tells him). And in "The Death of Me Yet," jubilation over the team's Cinderella story is short-lived after one of the team's (and series') most valuable players is slain during a liquor store robbery.
The White Shadow was never a ratings slam-dunk, but, especially, if you were on a high school basketball team, it was must-see viewing. Some more prurient episodes find The White Shadow off its game (in "The Stripper," Reeves is stunned to discover his new girlfriend, a Carver chemistry teacher, moonlights as an exotic dancer), but overall, it still scores with its real-world tone that often leaves conflicts and crises unresolved by the final freeze frame. Now available for replay on DVD, The White Shadow should find a new generation of fans. --Donald Liebenson