The COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on the world. Leaving nations in disarray as citizens in countries across the globe move to isolate themselves in their homes to avoid spreading the virus. The severity of this time is not least felt by sports lovers as games, tournaments and sporting events around the world continue to be canceled for the safety of players and fans.
To keep your spirits high during this difficult time, The Red & Black presents the top five basketball films ever made. The films listed give honest and genuine stories about the world of basketball through different lenses. None of which include a talking rabbit, to make it fair.
Honorable Mention: “The Way Back” (2020)
Ben Affleck stars as Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball star, now a construction worker coping with an alcohol addiction. He is called to coach his former high school team after the current coach suffers from a heart attack. Cunningham inherits the job and must lead a team back to prominence, a place where they have not been since Cunningham’s final game for the school.
The story revolves around Cunningham’s attempt to find redemption from what looms over his past. Affleck shows a real connection to the character and succeeds in portraying Cunningham as someone who is going through personal struggles while looking to earn his second chance in a town he disappointed.
The Way Back was released into theaters on March 6 just as the COVID-19 crisis started to take full stride. Streaming services like Amazon Video, VUDU and Apple TV are moving to offer the movie to rent less than a month after release.
5. “Glory Road” (2006)
This film depicts a historic moment in the sport of college basketball. Josh Lucas stars as head coach Don Haskins, the head coach of Texas Western College (now known as University of Texas of El Paso) who led the first all-black starting five lineup in history to the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship.
The film makes it a focal point to highlight the importance of what Haskins is putting together as his team continues through the season — facing criticism, backlash and controversy for the success. Haskins goal is for them to develop from a group of young men on a court into a team and a family. Their journey led them to a matchup against the “gold standard” of college basketball, powerhouse Kentucky and head coach Adolph Rupp, who is played by Jon Voight.
“Glory Road” is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Video, Apple TV, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. It’s also available for streaming on Disney Plus.
4. “He Got Game” (1998)
This Spike Lee joint follows Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) as he handles the media frenzy that comes with being the top college recruit in the country. His life is struck by lightning when his father, Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington), is released from prison with the help of a college looking to recruit Shuttlesworth to their program. Jesus Shuttlesworth must then balance one of the most important decisions he’ll ever make with the return of his father, who he blames for the death of his mother.
Allen stuns in his ability to show the vulnerability of a high school athlete caught up in the center of the nation’s eye in the ever so vicious recruiting game. Lee stays true to his formula in a sincere description of how powerful father-son conflicts can be.
“He Got Game” is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Video, Apple TV, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
3. “White Men Can’t Jump” (1992)
With a tagline “It ain’t easy being this good,” no two actors had the confidence to back that up more than Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrleson, who play Sidney Deane and Billy Hoyle. Hoyle is a streetball hustler who makes his money by betting against players who underestimate his skill. After meeting and challenging Deane, the two become partners in a con across the streets and courts of Los Angeles in order to pay back mob bosses whom Hoyle owes money to.
From the moment the two meet on the court, Rosie Perez’s time on Jeopardy, to the immense trash-talking all too familiar to anyone that has ever played the game, the film provides a thoroughly fun and hilarious viewing experience. The director, Ron Shelton, gives viewers a proper balance by making the film enjoyable while also tackling dynamics and experiences of black and white communities in Los Angeles.
“White Men Can’t Jump” is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Video, Apple TV, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
2. “Hoosiers” (1986)
After being barred from coaching in the NCAA and finishing a 10-year stint in the Navy, Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman is recruited to coach a small-town high school basketball team. The town is slow to welcome Dale’s and he must overcome his best player being pulled away from the team and the issues brought on by his alcoholic assistant coach, Shooter, played by Dennis Hopper.
Perhaps one of the most properly constructed sports movies ever made, “Hoosiers” forces viewers outside the state lines of Indiana to scour the Earth in search of Hickory attire. Hackman’s performance breaks the barriers of the conventional basketball coach as he pushes his team to its maximum potential. Full of memorable moments throughout, Hackman keeps us glued to the Husker’s underdog story every step of the way.
“Hoosiers” is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Video, Apple TV, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
1. “Blue Chips” (1994)
Whatever can be said about Norman Dale is unlikely to fit the character of Pete Bell, played by Nick Nolte. Bell is the ill-tempered, neurotic head coach of Western University who with Neon Boudeaux and Butch McRae, played by Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, must resort to less than legal means in order to win.
Director Ron Shelton makes another appearance and takes the top spot in this list with “Blue Chips.” This film is an unheralded glimpse into the shadows of the NCAA. So much so that the film does not use the NCAA name but instead NCSA, in an attempt to steer focus away. Nolte is able to take a less than perfect script and flip it on its heels with moments of abnormal intensity one would come to expect from Nolte. “Blue Chips” also gave the world one of its first glimpses into the star power O’Neal was developing outside the world of basketball. While not an easy first watch, “Blue Chips” is a wild ride from start to finish. However many viewings it takes, once it clicks inside, you’ll know exactly why it earns the No. 1 spot.
“Blue Chips” is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Video, Apple TV, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization based in Athens, Georgia; redandblack.com/sports