Former Missouri men’s basketball coach Norm Stewart said he’s thrilled with the SEC Storied documentary about his life, “Norm,” an ESPN Films production that is set to debut on at 8 p.m. Sunday on the SEC Network.
Tigers fans (and nostalgic college basketball fans) also will enjoy the peek into the life of arguably the most legendary figure in the school’s history.
“Who else is Missouri?” Derrick Chievous, the Tigers’ career leading scorer, asks rhetorically.
Stewart, 81, only expressed one concern about “Norm.”
“(Director) Fritz Mitchell has a wonderful reputation and I hope by doing my film he hasn’t damaged it,” Stewart joked Thursday by phone. “He’s a tremendous individual, and I was really pleased. I thought he did an excellent job of capturing our path.”
Fair warning: Any emotionally fragile Mizzou fans should brace for the clip of Tyus Edney’s coast-to-coast dash for a game-winning layup as time expired in the second round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
It’s shown twice, but those terrible 4.8 seconds shouldn’t spoil the 50-minute documentary, which chronicles the rise of “Stormin’ Norman” and the influences that shaped his fiery persona, beginning with his upbringing in rural northeast Missouri.
Local fans will be particularly transfixed by the segment on the now-defunct Border War between Missouri and Kansas, including Kansas City’s place as a battleground for recruiting as well as fans’ hearts and minds.
The rivalry is treated with reverence, including the gamesmanship Stewart injected into the proceedings — from his famed refusal to spend money in Kansas to his insistence that the Tigers park the team bus on Naismith Drive and walk through throngs of Jayhawks fans to enter Allen Fieldhouse.
“He’s an old codger,” former Kansas coach Roy Williams says in the film. “He was an old codger when he was young.”
Williams, who now coaches at North Carolina, served as Stewart’s longtime foil, but it’s clear the rivalry was founded in mutual respect.
“I’ve always liked Roy,” said Stewart, his anti-Jayhawk rhetoric softening considerably with age. “To me, he’s one of the best coaches in the country and he’s coached at two of the great schools.”
The retelling of Missouri’s fateful February 1989 trip to Oklahoma — when Stewart passed out on the flight, prompting an emergency landing — is gripping with its eye-witness accounts.
Stewart was diagnosed at the hospital with bleeding ulcers and colon cancer, which caused him to briefly step away from the basketball team.
He later started the Coaches vs. Cancer Foundation and spearheaded fundraising efforts for construction of the cancer wing at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia that bears the Stewarts’ name with his wife of 59 years, Virginia.
She provides the film’s poignancy, offering a glimpse into Stewart’s well-hidden soft underbelly with nuggets about their courtship.
It’s juxtaposed with stories from former players, including Kansas City native and Paseo Academy graduate Anthony Peeler, that illustrate Stewart’s taskmaster reputation.
“Norm” opens with Stewart waxing eloquently as he steers his car through the streets of his hometown of Shelbyville, Mo., where a photo of the 1952 state runner-up high school team he starred on still hangs in the Country Corner Cafe.
Stewart emerged as a basketball and baseball star for the Tigers in the 1950s and later dragged Mizzou men’s basketball from the depths — a 6-43 two-year stretch before his arrival in 1967 — to become one of the top programs in the country, including 634 wins in 32 season with 17 20-win seasons and eight conference championships.
Fans will appreciate the wonderful archival footage and Stewart’s charm as he strolls through Shelbyville and guides a tour through the office of his Columbia home, while the awkward rap by the 1987 squad provides comic relief.
To a certain degree, the film understandably wears rose-colored glasses.
“Norm” glosses over the controversy around his 1999 retirement, but it doesn’t shy away from the NCAA violations for impermissible benefits to recruits (and unmentioned academic irregularities) that dogged Mizzou’s program in the late 1980s.
MU will screen “Norm” at noon Friday at Mizzou Arena. The event is free and fans should park in Lot P, located south of Mizzou Arena. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. and light refreshments will be provided, but fans will be permitted to bring their own lunch.
There will be a 15-minute panel discussion with three former Tigers from Stewart’s era — current Missouri coach Kim Anderson, Mizzou play-by-play announcer Gary Link and ESPN analyst Jon Sundvold — before the premiere is screened.
Anderson, Link and Sundvold also appear in the film, which even features a brief cameo by current Kansas coach Bill Self.