Mission Hill basketball brothers focus of documentary

The diverging paths of two Mission Hill basketball-playing brothers are the centerpiece of a documentary, “The Mission,” currently under production.

Focusing on two brothers who grew up in Mission Hill, Wayne and Baron “Tiny” Turner, “The Mission” covers the divergent paths they took from their old neighborhood.

Wayne was named Mr. Basketball in Massachusetts and a McDonald’s All-American player, was a two-time national champion at the University of Kentucky, and played a professional basketball career in both the NBA and overseas before returning to Kentucky to finish his undergraduate degree.

Baron, a player with just as much talent and promise, left Mission Hill’s courts and community centers for the prison basketball leagues of the Massachusetts correctional system.

“It’s a bigger picture than just them,” “The Mission” director Brian Culkin told the Gazette. “They’re representing this dichotomy that seems to have developed in the basketball culture of Mission Hill.”

Culkin, himself a former Mission Hill resident, used to play basketball with Baron while in high school.

It was “this dividing line in the center between the pro athlete and this group of people just as talented that succumbed to problems in that community,” Culkin explained. “It’s an unfortunate situation.”

The film will include new and archival footage, including interviews with the brothers and other Mission Hill locals, to explain the neighborhood’s history and why these two brothers exemplify it so well.

“The Turner brothers definitely saw the worst of Mission Hill in the 1980s and 1990s,” Culkin said. “This criminal basketball culture arose not because people were bad, but because that’s all they had.”

Starting in 1941, Culkin said, moving into public housing, like the then-new projects in Mission Hill, Mission Main and Alice Taylor homes, built later as Mission Extension, was a huge step up for many people.

“The screening process was incredibly challenging. You had to be [a person] of a certain caliber,” he said, explaining that public housing at that time included electricity and indoor plumbing, not a given for many private homes.

“[But] due to the fact that American cities were changing so drastically in a 20 year period, [circumstances in the 1960s created] a perfect storm. The Black Southern immigrants were put into public housing just as white folks moved into the suburbs,” Culkin said.

Social conditions slowly deteriorated through the 1970s and into the 1980s, eventually creating two paths out for the Turners—basketball and crime.

“We’re just trying to be make a really informative, educational film that explains how the dynamics of a city and neighborhood affected the lives of two brothers in a really profound way,” Culkin said.

“I had the idea for a while. I always thought Wayne and his brother were so interesting,” Culkin said. “It’s this incredibly tragic thing that is worth a conversation.”

The film does not yet have a release date, Culkin said, though he said he hopes it will be ready in the spring. The film’s website is themissiondocumentary.com.

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