Since there are a myriad of basketball stories to tell (both fictitious and reality-based), I felt as though it would be unfair to rank them without first designating them to a specific genre. As a result, today’s piece will focus on three major categories: based on a true story, comedy, and drama.
***MINOR SPOILER ALERT for all included films***
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
At the very top of my nonfiction group is Disney’s Glory Road. Based on the true story of the 1966 Texas Western Miners, this gem stars Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher), Mehcad Brooks (Desperate Housewives), Alphonso McAuley (Pride), Damaine Radcliff (Step Up), Al Shearer (Hits From the Street), Sam Jones III (Smallville), and basketball player Schin A.S. Kerr.
As a person who enjoys a good nighttime movie marathon, my first watch of Glory Road happened completely by accident at 2AM on a school night––I’ve been grateful ever since. At that point in my life, I’d seen many films portraying the real-life hardships of Black people in their daily lives but never did that story center around the lives of athletes, making Glory Road a welcome change of pace.
Favorite Scene: The last game The Miners play against Kentucky. There’s so much drama and intensity that jumps out of the screen, brought to life by the impeccable acting of every single person on and off the court.
This film tells the story of Richmond High School basketball coach Ken Carter (portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson) and his team, comprised of Channing Tatum (Magic Mike), Rick Gonzalez (Roll Bounce), Robert Ri’chard (One on One), Rob Brown (Blindspot) and Antwon Tanner (One Tree Hill).
In the face of parents, fans, and even the players themselves believing that basketball is the only thing they are good at, Coach Carter aims to expand his player’s horizons and improve their self-confidence, especially in the world of academia.
Favorite Quote: “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frighten us.”
This film centers on Coach Al Collins from New Orleans’ John Ehret High School. A year after Hurricane Katrina, Coach Collins (played by Forest Whitaker, The Butler), assembled a hodge-podge group of players to try and win the Louisiana 5-A basketball championship.
The film also features performances by Bow Wow (Roll Bounce), Robbie Jones (One Tree Hill), Jackie Long (ATL), Khleo Thomas (Holes), and Erick D. Jill Jr. (Brotherly Love), and truly shows that through the trenches of adversity you can prevail.
Favorite Quote: “You gotta fit into the team. The team is not going to fit into you.”
In 1992, 75% of the NBA was Black; so it’s understandable that most people assumed that white men couldn’t play, or if they could, just not as well as their counterparts of color.
That’s exactly what cocky street baller Sidney Deane (played by Blade’s Wesley Snipes) thinks when he first sees Billy Hoyle (played by Cheers’ Woody Harrelson). After losing to him one on one, Sidney and Billy team up to capitalize on Billy’s deceptive appearance while challenging other neighborhood players.
With both their passions for basketball driving their significant others’ agitations up the wall (played by Do the Right Thing’s Rosie Perez and Boyz n the Hood’s Tyra Ferrell), this dynamic duo hopes that their new side hustle can solve all of their problems.
Favorite Scene: Raymond (Marques Johnson) attempting to commit a robbery.
I’m sure any true basketball fan would put this film in their top list––even my own father considers this to be one of his favorite films (he swears that it makes him feel like a kid again every time he watches it because it has two things he loved growing up: Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan).
Though I may not have it ranked as my number one pick, it will probably remain in my top 10 list of basketball films, past, present, or future.
Side note: I’m very excited to see if Space Jam: A New Legacy can live up to its predecessor. I personally think that this would be a very hard film to top in originality, laugh factor, and storyline.
Favorite Song: “Space Jam” (of course!)
It’s no secret that every basketball fan grows up dreaming of playing for their favorite team. That dream comes true for Calvin Cambridge (played by Bow Wow), an orphan who finds a pair of sneakers labeled “MJ”, which he assumes stands for “Michael Jordan.”
After the shoes get electrocuted during a storm they turn him to be a miniature maestro on the court. Calvin shares the floor with superstar baller Tracy Reynolds (Morris Chesnut), and the two form an unlikely bond with one another.
Favorite Scene: Bow Wow attempting to drive.
How far would you go for your favorite team to win a championship? Maybe most of you basketball fans can relate to the lengths that die-hard Celtics fans Mike (played by Home Alone’s Daniel Stern) and Jimmy (played by Ghostbuster’s Dan Aykroyd) go to in order to keep the Utah Jazz’s star player Lewis Scott (portrayed by In Living Color’s Damon Wayans) from playing in the final game of the NBA finals. The plan was simple: get Lewis so drunk he’d have a hangover bad enough to make him sit out for the game––the only problem is that they end up keeping him captive instead.
Favorite Scene: The 6th game of the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics series.
Like any other love story, things can get complicated; even more so when you both share the dream of becoming a professional basketball player. From childhood friends to falling for each other, Monica (The Best Man’s Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Juice’s Omar Epps) try their best to navigate life on and off the court.
Needless to say, this is one of my favorite throwback movies to watch––partially for the love story, but in no small portion due to the amazing soundtrack.
Favorite Song: “I Want to Be Your Man,” Roger and Zapp, and “Fool of Me” by Meshell Ndegeocello
Favorite Scene: Monica playing one-on-one with Quincy “for his heart.”
Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by NBA star Ray Allen) is already the top high-school prospect in the country and is on the cusp of becoming a basketball sensation as we find him deciding which college to attend. With this decision up in the air, the Governor of New York releases Jesus’s father, Jake (played by Denzel Washington), from prison in the hopes that he can convince his son to attend the Governer’s alma mater Big State.
Main takeaway from the film? Stop letting the anger you have toward others fester, no matter how deep––a similar theme to most of Spike Lee’s filmography, considering how much of his work involves conflict between fathers and their sons, and people going through the process of self-realization.
Favorite Scene: Jake and Jesus, 1-on-1.
Kyle Watson (portrayed by Duane Martin), a talented high school basketball player, is caught at a crossroads when he gets swept up with local gang members in his neighborhood. Also at odds with his past and present is Shep (played by Leon Robinson) who tries to keep Kyle from ruining his life, while also falling for his mother in the process. With both of these stories intertwined, we see the two men find their better selves through the game of basketball.
Favorite Quote: A tie between “You owe yourself and ones who cared to get you here” and “You got to be soldiers!” (Yes this quote doesn’t have much meaning to the film, but the way it’s said is hilarious to me).