MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On a February morning in 2016, the Hundley daughters arrived at Pikewood Creative to spill the difficult truth about their late father. A day earlier they had seen him bronzed in hook-shot immortality outside the WVU Coliseum, and now came the time for their own unveiling.
Through those raw perspectives, “Hot Rod” the documentary became even less of a basketball movie.
Sure, this film showcases hard-to-find footage from the late-50s when Hundley carved up opponents with skill and clowning inside the Mountaineer Field House. And viewers will feel soaked in nostalgia by photos tracing all the way back to Hundley in diapers.
Director Dan Lohmann, a veteran of Olympic broadcasts, and producer Tony Caridi, the voice of the Mountaineers for 21 seasons, labored during the three-year project to collect these necessary artifacts. They also dug up the lesser-known storyline on Hundley’s failings, regrets and the family he often deserted, which will emerge as the film’s legacy.
Sports heavyweights such as Jim Nantz, Dick Engberg, Brent Musberger and, of course, Jerry West lend illustrative stories of Hundley’s journey from NBA No. 1 pick to beloved Utah Jazz broadcaster. Yet it’s the candid recollections from Hot Rod’s daughters — Kimberly, Jackie and Jennifer — that define him deepest and with authentic bite.
There’s nary a hint of sugar-coating. Loving their father while forgiving him for the drinking and infidelities that fractured their childhoods required a complex reconciliation. My colleague Lohmann navigates the misfires of a basketball legend through clever storytelling which helps the audience realize — as the daughters did — how Hundley’s sense of responsibility was sabotaged by the dereliction of his own father. Heartbreaking accounts tell of Hundley’s mother struggling to feed and house the boy, even as he blossomed into one of the nation’s top recruits.
Crowds at the Clay Center in Charleston and The Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown were moved by the Hot Rod Hundley documentary last week. Tonight brings its TV debut at 7 p.m. on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh with an encore at 11 p.m.
The film features funny moments befitting Hundley’s charming antics, and should entice fans of college basketball and the vintage NBA. For fathers young and old, it also reveals the landmines selfish decisions can leave behind.