Basketball is on the mind of millions this month, as March Madness is in full swing. And what’s not to love? There are underdogs, buzzer beaters and rivalries.
Maybe that’s why Hollywood has often turned to basketball for some of its best stories. Here are three of the best basketball movies you should see.
Hoosiers is the quintessential basketball (and underdog) movie. The film focuses on a high school basketball team from Hickory, Indiana, a small, rural town. The film is set in the 1950’s, when there were no high school class divisions. Every school in Indiana competed in one state championship tournament.
Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, is the new, hard-nosed coach in town. His assistant is Shooter, played by Dennis Hopper, the town drunk and former star player. Dale brings a no-nonsense attitude and a slower, focused style of play to Hickory, which are initially met with doubt from players and parents alike.
On top of that, Dale has to deal with Shooter’s alcoholism, the best player in town, Jimmy, not going out for the team and aggressive, second-guessing fathers.
Eventually Dale wins over the townspeople and convinces Jimmy to play. After that, Hickory becomes unstoppable. They make their way through the tournament with an undermanned and undersized team, shocking the rest of the state in the process.
This is probably the best basketball movie ever made. It, along with Rudy, epitomizes the plight of the underdog. It’s got everything: drama, engrossing characters and lots of heart. Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper turn in unforgettable performances.
White Men Can’t Jump is different than other basketball movies, in that, it doesn’t focus on a traditional team. Rather, it focuses on two street ballers Billy Hoyle, played by Woody Harrelson, and Sidney Deane, played by Wesley Snipes.
The film takes place on the outdoor courts of L.A. Billy, a former college basketball player, uses his unassuming look and the prejudices of the predominately black street players to hustle them.
Billy scams Sidney and embarrasses him twice in front of his friends, taking all of his money in the process.
Sidney sees an excellent opportunity to make some quick cash, which they both need desperately. Sidney needs the money to move his family out of a bad neighborhood, and Billy needs the money to get out of some trouble with a couple of low-rent gangsters.
So the two form an unlikely partnership. However, they must deal with each other’s egos, losing (money and girlfriends) and stiff competition on the court.
The interplay between Billy and Sidney is what makes this movie. Some of the best Billy/Sidney scenes include: the opening scene when Billy hustles Sidney, the scene where Billy loses a bet on whether or not he can dunk and the scene where Billy informs Sidney that Jimmy Hendrix’s rhythm section was white.
There’s also the trash talk. If there was a gold medal for it, you can bet Sidney Deane would be standing on the podium.
Glory Road is based on the true story of head coach Don Haskins’ and Texas Western’s (now University of Texas at El Paso) run up to the 1966 NCAA championship and the adversity they faced.
Don Haskins, played by Josh Lucas, is the new coach at Texas Western College. Texas Western a small college with few resources to attract top high school recruits. Haskins and his assistants are forced to find the best raw talent, regardless of race.
As a result his team consists of seven black players and five white players, which raises objections and doubt, even at Haskins' own school.
As the season progresses Texas Western goes on an impressive win streak, which creates a lot of attention (positive and negative). Playing in the deep South, the team faces prejudice because of its three black starters and a flamboyant style of play.
The racism become increasingly heated, even violent, but it only brings the team closer together. It culminates in the Championship game against perennial (all white) powerhouse Kentucky. A game in which Texas Western started five black players, an NCAA first.
It's so inspiring to see Texas Western, and its fans, come together against such adversity. It's amazing that something so simple, like basketball, can unite people and transcend race. If you like underdogs, brotherhood and history, this is a must see.
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