The cast of “The Crossover” made a grand entrance on the red carpet at the Hollywood Athletic Club for the series premiere on April 4. Actors Derek Luke, Jalyn Hall, Amir O’Neil, Sabrina Revelle, Deja Monique, Trevor Bush, Skyla I’Lece and head writer and showrunner Kwame Alexander all made an appearance to celebrate the series’ release.
Based on the award winning 2014 children’s book of the same name by author Kwame Alexander, “The Crossover” chronicles the lives of twin brothers Josh (Jalyn Hall) and Jordan Bell (Amir O’Neil) as they navigate through the challenges of high school, family and their shared love: basketball.
Amir O’Neil plays Jordan Bell in Disney’s “The Crossover.” (Video by Sydney Gaw and Nathalie Cruz)
For Josh and Jordan, basketball is not just a game, but a way of life. It is the thing that brings them together and the thing that sets them apart. Basketball serves as a source of inspiration, hope and purpose for the brothers. Staying true to the spirit of the book, the series explores complex themes such as identity, family relationships and the pressure of competition.
What sets “The Crossover” apart is the way in which the story is told in the book and on screen. Josh and Jordan’s story is told entirely in verse through a variety of poetry forms — a choice Alexander used to mirror the rhythmic nature of the sport.
Though Alexander’s poetic prowess and ingenuity in “The Crossover” earned him the 2015 Newbery Medal and a Coretta Scott King Award, bringing such an avant-garde piece of literature to the market was no easy task.
The original novel took five years to write and faced 22 rejections before it was published by HMH Books for Young Readers, according to Alexander.
“Nobody thought a novel about basketball would be interesting to kids, nobody thought a novel written in poems would be interesting either,” Alexander said. “I always saw the vision of [The Crossover] being something that could work not only on the page but also on the stage.”
Alexander drew his inspiration for “The Crossover” from personal experience. He recalls a particular conversation from when his father took him to shoot free throws at the local courts. The playground supervisor asked his father if he should lower the basketball hoop, to which Alexander’s father responded no, saying that three-year-old Alexander didn’t know he couldn’t make it.
“That’s always stuck with me — this idea that you should never let anyone lower your goal,” Alexander said. “I wanted to write a book that used basketball as a metaphor for how we cross over from being kids into young adulthood — how we cross over in life, how we adapt and adjust.”
This piece of fatherly advice remains a central theme in the series and is echoed by the Bell brothers’ father in the show. Chuck Bell (Derek Luke), the boys’ coach and mentor, is their number one supporter on and off the court. Even while dealing with prevailing health issues that put him on the sideline from coaching, Chuck encourages his sons to push through defeat and persevere through life’s challenges.
“What I love about Chuck is that he’s a present guy and also a supportive husband,” Luke said. “I’m also a father to young boys, and I really brought my heart [to the role].”
Alongside Chuck, the boys’ headstrong and loving mother Crystal (Sabrina Revelle) is the backbone of the Bell family, guiding the boys through their academics and instilling the importance of balance. Early on, she asserts “GPA over NBA.”
Sabrina Revelle plays Crystal Bell in Disney’s “The Crossover.” (Video by Sydney Gaw and Nathalie Cruz)
Crystal and the boys’ conflicting ideas of school-life balance come to a head in the second episode when Jordan attempts to maintain a relationship without his parents’ knowledge. Paired with basketball and his struggle to learn with ADHD, having a girlfriend proves another challenge for Jordan that he must confront. At the same time, both brothers must cope with the instability of their father’s health. The show’s exploration of familial bonds and brotherhood provides an emotional message for viewers about trust and unconditional love.
The compelling nature of the story is due in large part to the chemistry between actors Jalyn Hall and Amir O’Neil, who play Josh and Jordan, respectively. According to O’Neil, their friendship on and off set really bolstered their performance in the series.
“It was absolutely amazing to work with [Jalyn]. He’s such a character and he’s really like my brother,” O’Neil said. “I didn’t actually know how to play [basketball] before we started filming, but throughout the show, it was really cool to learn alongside Jalyn.”
“The Crossover” is not only an impressive way of storytelling but also a significant step forward for diverse representation in the entertainment industry. The cast and crew represent a diverse range of backgrounds and life experiences — a rarity in mainstream media. The show breaks down stereotypes and redefines what it means to be an athlete and a unique individual by offering a fresh perspective into what it takes to be successful by one’s own measure of success.
The series premiere of “The Crossover” marks a momentous occasion for those involved in the project, especially for Alexander, who had been working on the adaptation for many years. Along with co-showrunners Damani Johnson and Kimberly Harrison, Alexander was able to bring “The Crossover” to life in a way that reflected the beauty and rhythm of basketball.
“It was magical,” Harrison said. “I learned so much in the writing and the poetry. The moment [we] started the project, I was sucked into the magic that is Kwame Alexander.”
“The Crossover” is now available for streaming on Disney+.