For the first time in its 80-year existence, the storied history of The Palestra is coming directly into the homes of local television viewers.
Mikaelyn Austin’s documentary, The Palestra: Cathedral of Basketball, will make its local television debut on Friday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. This follows its broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN Classic over the summer and its selection as a favorite at the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival.
Austin, a 2004 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a four-year member of the women’s basketball team, began working on the project in August 2004, only a few months after her graduation.
“I knew when I graduated that I wanted to get involved in some sort of film production,” Austin said. “The Palestra was a subject that I obviously knew very well and could immerse myself in while still enjoying the project. More than anything, however, I was horrified to learn that nobody had ever done an in-depth look at The Palestra’s impact on the Big 5 and the overall development of college basketball. It became a mission of mine to get the topic its deserved attention.”
It took eight months before Austin could obtain the investors necessary to secure a film and editing crew. While the budget was being approved, she focused on lining up interviews with coaches, players and media members from each of The Palestra’s eight decades.
“I drew up an endless list of people I would have loved to interview, but I really emphasized those who could talk about what the building has meant to college basketball history.”
One of those people was Saint Joseph’s men’s basketball coach Phil Martelli, who jumped at the chance to talk about what he considers “the best building in college basketball.”
“The Palestra has held the most NCAA Tournament games, 52, of any arena in the country and is, in my mind, synonymous with the Big 5,” Martelli said. “Its tradition, emotion and pageantry are unmatched anywhere else in the nation. The Palestra is a place one has to see, feel and experience to truly call oneself a college basketball fan.”
The heads at ESPN agreed, much to Austin’s relief.
“I was worried that they would pull it at the last minute because it was too regional, but ESPN saw the quality of the production and embraced it,” Austin said.
Austin is hoping that Philadelphians will do the same.
“I’m glad Comcast is bringing the documentary home to an audience who can fully appreciate it,” she said. “Hopefully the film will serve as a springboard for older generations to pass on their knowledge and love of the Big 5 and The Palestra to younger college basketball fans.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org