Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Today, we finished a screenplay about Louis Mulkey, a Charleston fireman whose passion was coaching high school basketball. When his boys were eighth graders, he promised them that if they worked hard and believed in themselves, as seniors they would win the South Carolina state basketball championship. It was an unlikely prediction: Their school had never won a state championship, had never even come close to it. But Louis Mulkey believed in those boys, and he inspired them with the idea that the force of history was nothing compared to the power of faith.

Three years later, on the eve of his team's senior season, Louis Mulkey was killed in a fire. He died as he had lived - for others. He refused to leave a burning building so long as his men were inside. He gave his life trying to save them. But what he did for his fellow firefighters was no less heroic than what he had done for his boys - he gave his life for them, he shared with them his dreams of victory, his faith that love and hope and sacrifice must triumph in the end.

The next season, in their senior year, Louis's boys worked their hearts out to make his promise real. They struggled their way to the state finals, where they met a team that was much bigger and better and more qualified than they. But they had a dream and a motivation that came from beyond themselves, and they fought, and pushed themselves to the limit and beyond... and they lost.

At the buzzer, an opposing player made a miraculous shot - a desperation throw, an eighty-foot effort in the final split second that arced its way the length of the court and went in. Louis's team had lost his promise by a single point. It is what happened then, after they lost, that makes the story so special - a miraculous ending to a heart-rending season which no one could have predicted, and which I, certainly, could not have invented. In fact, if I had tried to invent it, no one would believe me. But it was true - it was fact - and facts have a way of altering our perceptions.

My way of looking at things has been changed by the experience of writing this film. (I am a writer because the best of what I write always changes me.) Many of my old beliefs, long jaundiced by life, have been resuscitated by this project. It has reminded me that one man, with faith in his heart and a single-minded devotion to the humanity of others, can make a difference, no matter what the coruscated purveyors of cynicism who fill so much of our culture now may say. My buried belief that sainthood is possible even for those who have been taught that only that which is material, that which is profitable, that which can be reckoned on the bottom line has value, finds a new breath in this story.

Louis Mulkey, in many ways a flawed and self-doubting man, changed the world. One of his players, a freshman at Georgia University when I met him, said to me: "If it wasn't for him I'd be mopping floors somewhere." It was the testament of a humble young man whose life had been touched by pure selflessness; by a simple caring and compassion that altered forever the course of his destiny.

Those of us who live can still, by having the courage and the selflessness to intervene in the lives of others, change not only those lives, but our own as well. The task of telling the story of Louis Mulkey has reminded me that each of us can, through faith in humanity, achieve in our lifetimes a kind of immortality.