BASN At The Movies – Basketball
By Anthony McClean, Editor – in – Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN, CT (BASN/BASN NEWSROOM): We continue to put together a list of some of our favorite sports movies. We’re breaking it down into five basic sports movie groups: baseball, football, basketball, boxing, and others. Now others will include track and field, hockey, golf, and so on. And we’re not restricting to just the big screen.
We’ll also include television (cable and or network) and documentaries as well.
Now we’ve already dipped into the baseball diamond and the football gridiron. Today, we take our best shot at the basketball hardwoods. Now if you’re looking for stuff like “Gilligan’s Island Meets the Harlem Globetrotters”, “Celtic Pride”, or “Teen Wolf”, please feel free to take your ball and go home.
Okay, let’s take it to the hole!
Black Magic (2008)
The definitive documentary/movie on the history and legacy of HBCU hoops. The backdrop is the lasting impact that two Hall of Fame coaches — Clarence “Big House” Gaines and John B. McClendon — still have on college hoops as a whole. Through archival footage, eyewitness accounts, and several interviews, the history of the two coaches and college hoops, in general, is woven into an unforgettable narrative. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important sports movies ever made.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
In many ways, this was the first “reality show” that was transformed into a movie. Focusing on two Chicago teenagers — William Gates and Arthur Agee — the film follows the two high school teammates and their desires to make the NBA. While neither made the league, the telling of their individual stories still makes for a very compelling movie. At the end of the day (and of the movie), it’s not really important that neither reached their ultimate goal. In many ways, “Hoop” is the story of every kid who dreamed of going to the pros.
He Got Game (1998)
The acting debut of NBA star Ray Allen was a highlight in one of Spike Lee’s best films. Playing high school star Jesus Shuttlesworth, Allen is being heavily recruited by every school in the country — including local “Big State”. Shuttlesworth’s estranged dad (Denzel Washington), a convicted felon in prison, attempts to get Jesus to commit to State at the behest of the prison’s warden and the governor. The film’s realism, as well as the use of some current and former college hoop coaches and pro players, gives the film its edge. Not to mention the biting commentary throughout the flick makes this a great sports film. Add in the thumping beats of Public Enemy and others and you have an unforgettable movie.
Love and Basketball (2000)
While the title gives away some of the film’s intent, this Gina Prince-Bythewood movie explores a subject that’s usually ignored by most sports movies — the black female athlete. Yes, its premise is a love story that traces hoop stars Sanaa Lathan (Monica Wright) and Omar Epps (Quincy McCall) from youngsters to adults. But while we see the somewhat predictable path of Epps’ character, who is the son of a former NBA star, the real eye opener for many was the struggles and obstacles that Lathan’s character had to overcome. In many ways, it’s an all too familiar tale what many female athletes have to face once their collegiate athletic career ends. While many critics panned the movie, I found that it told a story that many needed to hear. Plus, you get to see the beautiful Ms. Lathan in shorts. YOWZA!!
The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979)
When you mix in Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Meadowlark Lemon, a wacky astrologer, and a young fan/trainer who’s heavily into the Zodiac, you get this delightful little film that mixed comedy with hoops. Think of it as a basketball version of “Major League” with the Hall of Famer Erving leading a band of misfits from last place to the NBA Finals. Throw in some cameos by fellow NBA stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, Connie Hawkins, and others and it becomes a very entertaining flick. If you ever wonder where some of those over the top NBA player entrances began, check out this movie. Trivia alert: A scene where Dr. J blocks Kareem’s famous Sky Hook was cut from the movie and the vehement request of the Laker star.
Above The Rim (1994)
In another film dealing a young black athlete looking to make the transition from high school star to college prospect, Duane Martin plays Kyle Watson, a budding Georgetown University recruit. Watson has to decide who to play for; his gangster friend (Tupac Shakur) or a former star/player turned coach (Leon) — just happens to be dating his mother — in a summer league hoop tournament. While Martin is listed as the “star” of the movie, it’s the performance of Tupac that has the largest impact on the film. The movie is more about the dilemmas and obstacles that players like Watson have to make while trying to better themselves and the ones they love. Many critics stated that the film was too formulaic. However, I found this to be another realistic and gritty look at the choices young adults are forced to make.
Blue Chips (1994)
Much like “He Got Game”, this William Friedkin flicks takes an unflinching look at corruption in college hoops. Coach Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) of Western University is struggling on and off the court. He decides to seek help from “a friend of the program” to change the team’s fortunes – but suddenly, with the emergence of three blue-chip recruits (played by Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, and Matt Nover), Bell’s fortunes change as the Dolphins go from bad to dominating in a New York minute. However, Bell’s guilt and the work of an investigative sports reporter lead to the end of the good times for all parties involved. Similar to “Game”, there are several cameos from the college and pro basketball world that give the movie its realism.
Big Mo (1973)
Airing on CBS back in 1973, this TV-movie focuses on the friendship of NBA players Maurice Stokes (Bernie Casey) and Jack Twyman (Bo Swenson) while the two were teammates for the Cincinnati Royals during the 1950′s. One of the league’s forgotten superstars, Stokes’ career was tragically cut short when he developed permanent paralysis due to post-traumatic encephalopathy (damage to the motor-control center of the brain) just days after awkwardly falling onto the hardwood floor. The movie focuses on the pair’s long-standing relationship after Stokes’ injury right up until his death in 1970.
The Harlem Globetrotters: The Team That Changed the World (2005)
In this DVD, the history of the world’s most famous basketball squad and their contributions to the game are finally told. From Goose Tatum to Meadowlark Lemon and everything in between, the story and history of the Trotters is a huge part of hoop history. Folks who see them as just a team whose time and relevance has passed them by will be educated on what this team has and still means to the sport of basketball. A bonus feature includes many unseen photos and film clips as well. If you’re a fan of basketball, it’s one of those must-see DVDs.