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Thursday, December 5, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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DaShawn Bedford receives $5,000 grant to tell the story of Bobby Jack Sumler

DaShawn Bedford, one of the original organizers of the now-5-year-old West Central Community Center basketball league, videotapes a game for the Love League channel on YouTube on May 22, 2017. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
DaShawn Bedford, one of the original organizers of the now-5-year-old West Central Community Center basketball league, videotapes a game for the Love League channel on YouTube on May 22, 2017. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Audrey Overstreet For The Spokesman-Review

DaShawn Bedford, now 39, was just a kid when he first saw local Spokane basketball legend Bobby Jack Sumler walk into an open gym in West Central Spokane. The 9-year-old was not impressed.

“Bobby Jack comes in with cut-off sweats and mismatched socks, and I’m like ‘I know they are not going to let this guy play,’” Bedford said. “Bobby Jack stepped onto the court and started pointing, ‘I’m gonna dunk on you, I’m gonna dunk on you, and I’m gonna dunk on you.

“He called them out like Muhammad Ali telling fighters he was gonna knock ’em out in the first round,” Bedford chuckled. “He dunked on two of the dudes at the same time, and then he dunked on the other guy later on during that day.”

Growing up in Spokane, Bedford said Sumler was a larger-than-life character. Everybody had a story about the legendary Spokane Community Colleges hall-of-famer who set records in the mid-1980s. As a local ball player and youth basketball organizer himself, Bedford’s curiosity about those stories grew over the years.

Bedford, who has worked for the past eight years as a programmer at the nonprofit Community-Minded Television (CMTV-14), decided to focus his expertise to film a documentary about Sumler. Spokane Arts announced today that Bedford was awarded a $5,000 grant to help fund the project.

An old school VHS of the 1992 movie “White Men Can’t Jump” starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson sits on display on Bedford’s desk at work. Bedford recalled sneaking into the Fox theater to see the R-rated movie as a kid.

“After watching that movie, my whole basketball mentality changed instantly,” Bedford said. “The lesson with that movie, and here is Bobby Jack affecting me again, is you can’t judge somebody by the way they look.”

Even Bedford’s approach to his documentary is wait-and-see. “When it comes to a documentary, you don’t know where the story will lead you. Your mind has to be artistic and open,” Bedford said. “Like in music or hip hop, the beat already has a rhythm to it. You are just trying to find it.”

Bedford had to find his own beat early in life. Growing up in what used to be known as Felony Flats with a hard-working single mom, Bedford got into trouble. He was expelled from North Central High School his freshman year after he instigated a fight with another student who called him a racial slur.

The only high school he was allowed in after that was Rogers, where getting to early zero-hour classes on city buses was a challenge for the teenager. “The simple truth was I wanted to play ball with my friends at North Central, but I do believe everything happens for a reason,” Bedford said. “I learned that you got to stay grinding and find opportunities.”

Bedford played junior varsity and varsity basketball at Rogers. He later followed in Bobby Jack’s footsteps when he played at SCC for a championship team. And his interest in video started early when he held his first handy cam and took basketball footage on the streets of Spokane with a friend.

By the time Bedford was 26, he was working as a roofer and shooting video with his own camera when he was asked to film an instructional video for a local company. He bought a book to read tutorials on how to edit and produce, but his hasty self-mentorship worked. He finished the video and started filming other projects for clients, including music videos for bands.

He hasn’t worked as a roofer since. Bedford served as assistant camera operator for last year’s Netflix documentary on Rachel Dolezal, the white woman from Spokane who made national news after representing herself as African-American.

On his wall is a plaque for best cinematography in last year’s Northwest Horror Fest for his work on the short film “Recursion.” That project arose from helping a young man who came into CMTV looking for an extra battery for his camera.

Bedford’s idea to pursue a documentary about Sumler solidified after hearing that ESPN sportscaster and Spokane native Neil Everett had started using the phrase “Step Back, Bobby Jack.” Now people who have no idea about the origin of the phrase use the viral hashtag #stepbackbobbyjack to describe what was one of Sumler’s signature moves.

“You bow forward and step back to create distance, and now you have an open shot,” Bedford explained. “It’s a really tough trick move to pull off.”

“It’s cool how people who have never even heard of Bobby Jack are yelling his name,” Bedford said. “Being a successful ball player doesn’t mean making money. It’s creating a legacy – doing something local.”

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