We’ve got a bubble in which NBA players are getting back to work. Who doesn’t like shooting some B-Ball outside of the school until a couple of guys that are up to no good, start making trouble in your neighborhood? The option of moving to Bel-Air like the “Fresh Prince” sounds tempting, but I’d take seeing LeBron against Khwahi battle for the rights of the king of L.A. any day of the week. My favorite sport to play and second favorite to watch (I’m a white American so obviously NFL is king), hitting the hardwood holds a special place for me. In honor of the game James Naismith invented way back in 1891, this is my Top 10 Basketball Movies.
10. “The Air Up There” (1994):
Kevin Bacon has made so many movies that sometimes his best are forgotten. There is a reason why they call the game ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’. One of his best lead roles came in the serendipitous sports comedy “The Air Up There”. Bacon plays Jimmy Dolan, a former player who’s career was cut short due to a devastating knee injury. Currently coaching at a small college, Dolan wants to advance his career. In order to do that he needs a bold find of a basketball player. Cut to a trip to Africa and Jimmy stumbles upon a 7-footer named Saleh. The only problem, this big man and his rural tribe don’t know how to play basketball. It takes a great deal of determination to teach and convince this physical specimen that he can go up against the big time American players. “The Air Up There” is also about a man lost in life learning more from a foreign culture than he thought as well as a player learning from a city boy. This is at heart about cultures coming together.
9. “Teen Wolf” (1985):
Let us be honest. “Teen Wolf” is a completely ridiculous concept and overall movie in hindsight. But somehow, it has become a beloved cultural icon. Even if you haven’t seen it, who over the age of 20 has never heard of “Teen Wolf”? I mean MTV even made a recent television show remake out of it. Look, no explanation, but to this day if “Teen Wolf” pops on the television, I’m watching for at least a commercial break or two. The Michael J. Fox comedy about a teenager who becomes a werewolf and can ball-out has this odd charm nobody can break down intelligently. Similar to the opposing schools trying to stop this beast on the court, off the court you can’t help but smile when this hairy guy dunks over everyone.
8. “Eddie” (1996):
Before becoming a daytime television staple, Whoopie Goldberg had some hits as well as big misses on the silver screen. We all know “Ghost” and “Sister Act” of course. One of her starring vehicles that did not get enough credit was as a female coach for an all male professional basketball team in “Eddie”. Goldberg plays Eddie Franklin, a limo driver in New York and die hard New York Knicks fan. With the team playing miserable and attendance low, Knicks management decides to think outside of the box. The biggest fan in Eddie, out of nowhere, is appointed the team’s head coach. Certainly a steep learning curve for any woman trying to manage an all male locker room. Fortunately Eddie learns fast and shows what a confident lady can do that men for years have failed to do before her. Lead one of the most storied NBA franchises towards actually being a contender. And she does it without taking any BS from a league full of bigots.
7. “The Way Back” (2020):
The most recently produced film on this list,“The Way Back” was a complete surprise as to just how good it was. A standard looking February sports movie release, this picture is going to age well is my guess. A compelling story of redemption, Ben Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a former top tier recruit coming out of a high-end Catholic school. Due to unforeseen events in life, Cunningham throws away everything and becomes a hard-core alcoholic construction worker. With the team now failing to even be a factor since Cunningham left, the head priest convinces the former star to return as the head coach. Jack is bitter at life and often pops off with a litany of swears on the sidelines during games. Not the best thing a coach for a Catholic school. “The Way Back” thrives by showing honestly how kids can learn from flawed human beings while also depicting a man lost finding a new purpose, even if it’s later in life.
6. “The Basketball Diaries” (1995):
This is a tough slope “The Basketball Diaries” attempts to tackle in a time when it was somewhat OK but still not spoken about openly often. Teenagers living their dream as they are on the way to a potential NBA career is fine. One problem, our stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg get deep into the world of drug abuse amidst the tail end of the AIDS epidemic. Not to mention the drug dealers are not exactly the nicest people. It is a fact parents of rich kids do not want to talk about because it is easier to turn a blind eye than to accept the fact that the rich kids are the ones doing all the drugs because they can afford to. The film also touches on the horrific idea of school shooting’s years before ‘Columbine’ happened. “The Basketball Diaries” is not centered around playing the sport. It is about young minds that are still forming making wrong decisions.
5. “He Got Game” (1998):
Director Spike Lee made one of the grittiest sports movies ever with “He Got Game”. Starring Denzel Washington and future NBA hall-of-famer Ray Allen, the story centers around a troubled inner city youth who sees basketball as his only way out of the ghetto. The young Jesus Shuttlesworth is the most sought after high school prospect in the country. What has loomed over the head of the young man is his father Jake serving life in prison after killing his mother during a domestic dispute. Jake is released on parole with the sole condition that he can convince his son to play for the governor’s alma mater university Big State. While this is fiction, if you don’t think rampant corruption that leads all the way up to murder being brushed under the table in collegiate sports then you are blind. Spike isn’t, which is why he takes the issue head on, even showing one university hiring prostitutes to hopefully sway Jesus to their school. “He Got Game” is also a story about whether one can forgive a person who has let them down in perhaps the worst way imaginable.
4. “Space Jam” (1996):
How could you not like “Space Jam”? This is one of the most charming children’s movies of the 1990’s. At the absolute apex of popularity his ‘Royal Airness’ Mr. Michael Jeffrey Jordan took to the silver screen as himself to play basketball alongside Bugs Bunny and the rest of the “Looney Tunes” crew. It was old school coming together with new school to defeat a team of aliens that had stolen the basketball talents of multiple NBA stars, most notably the hall-of-famer Charles Barkely. Jordan is not a good actor, but here he doesn’t have to be. Let the famous cartoon stars do their thing while you ball out like nobody ever has before or since. Sprinkle in a little comic relief ala the services of Wayne Knight and Bill Murray and you’ve got yourself a classic. I have no clue who came up with the idea of combining Air Jordan with the Looney Tunes, but I’m sure glad they pulled it off.
3. “Love & Basketball” (2000):
“Love & Basketball” has always been a hidden gem for me. I don’t know if it was a lack of marketing or the fact that an African-American movie not starring Tyler Perry is hard to make money on, but this is one of the sweetest games on the court ever played. “Love & Basketball” is not simply a sports movie, it is a romantic tale spanning decades that is genuine. Omar Epps plays Quincy, the son of a former NBA player who is estranged from the family because daddy was sleeping around all over the country while on the road. Quincy’s neighbor Monica played by Sanaa Lathan has a love for the sport from a young age. As kids they grow up together as players to the point where each achieve scholarships with the potential to play professionally. A typical college break-up occurs as each one’s career goes in a different direction. What I love most about “Love & Basketball” is that it portrays the rise or potential fall of both a male and female athlete on the court, but ultimately realizing that not being with ‘The One’ is torture.
2. “White Men Can’t Jump” (1992):
This movie is pure adult humor 90’s-style fun. In “White Men Can’t Jump” Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes play Billy and Sydney, two of the ultimate street-ball hustlers on the beach courts. Obviously a black dominated sport, the goofy looking Woody Harrelson comes along, at this point in his career best known for playing the idiot in “Cheers”, and gets laughed off the court before taking a single dribble. The moral of the story here is, don’t judge a book by its cover. This guy can ball. Once Snipes realizes this the pair take advantage of the light-skinned hoopster’s complexion and go around town hustling money in two-on-two pickup games from anyone willing to throw down a bet. Doesn’t always go to plan as some of the betters are straight gangsters. But hey, sure is a fun way to make a living.
1. “Hoosiers” (1986):
An utter masterpiece from start to finish, “Hoosiers” is the greatest capturing of small town sports and the reason why playing ball is so important to rural communities. Unlike big cities, when the local team is playing in a little town pretty much everyone physically capable is coming out to watch. Based on the true story of a 1954 team in Indiana, “Hoosiers” is about an old-timer coach played by Gene Hackman teaming up with the town drunk (Dennis Hopper) to band together a group of cast-offs and failures on the court to somehow miraculously get to the state championships. Indiana is one of if not the biggest basketball states in the country, but most great players come from the big cities (Larry Bird being the exception). Facing a team full of rich kids with more athletic ability and resources, the “Hoosiers” team is doing it not just for themselves but also for their town. That is what makes sports special.