THE ULTIMATE MARCH MADNESS GUIDE TO BASKETBALL FILMS
Ahhh yea…it’s Big Soda’s favorite time of the year. My Tar Heels just won the ACC Regular Season Championship. NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday is this weekend. And I’ve got a birthday coming up if anyone wants to buy me tickets. Needless to say, I’ll be like a hyperactive child loose in FAO Schwartz for the next month. So, until the NCAA Championship is wrapped up, you’ll be getting nothing but basketball-related Big Soda & Popcorn articles from me.
Earlier this week, I was trying to decide what the all-time classic round-ball movies are for each level of the game—high school, college, professional, street ball, and yes, even Globetrotters. Well I did it, and I’m gonna share them with you, along with a movie I think you should check out if you haven’t already, one you can completely avoid if you desire, and a quality documentary to top it all off.
Classic: Hoosiers (1985)
High school sports live for the David and Goliath story. Just ask Jason McElwain. Arguably the greatest basketball film of all time, the story of Hickory High School’s undersized and underestimated team has it all. Team member with rocky parental relationship? Check. Down-on-his-luck coach with a questionable past? Absolutely. Reluctant star athlete with an over-protective family member? Jimmy Chitwood was the original “Next Jordan.” Physically- and athletically-superior opponent to overcome for the championship? That South Bend Central team could probably beat this year’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
Check It: The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend (1991)
At age eight, I think I watched this movie every single day. I’d watch about 30 minutes, then go play ball for an hour, then do it all over again. The movie tells the story of “Pistol” Pete Maravich, focusing on the 1959 season, where Pete made the varsity team as an eighth grader. As far as memorable basketball personalities go, the Pistol is at the top of my list. His style and flare changed the game in many ways.
Leave It: Coach Carter (2005)
As much as I love Samuel L. Jackson yelling at me for a couple hours (not at all), you won’t be missing anything if you haven’t seen this gem yet.
Documentary: Hoop Dreams (1994)
One of the more critically-acclaimed films on this list, Hoop Dreams tells the story of two inner-city Chicago youths hoping to overcome their circumstances and make a career out of playing ball. Touching on a number of sociological issues, including race and class, the film covers a span of five years, along with all the ups and downs the young men experience.
Classic: Blue Chips (1994)
The movie poster says all you need to know….”NOLTE – SHAQ.” Pretty good basketball scenes thanks to Shaq and Penny Hardaway, plus a ton of great cameos (Bobby Knight, Larry Bird, Jerry Tarkanian, Robert Wuhl and Bob Cousy). Written by the same guy who penned Bull Durham, Tin Cup, The Great White Hype, Cobb, White Men Can’t Jump, and sadly, Hollywood Homicide. Does anyone else get the feeling that Rick Pitino is as annoying in person as he is during this scene?
Check It: City Dump: The Story of the 1951 CCNY Basketball Scandal (1998)
This HBO documentary tells the story of college basketball’s first known point-shaving scandal. CCNY came into the 1951 season as the defending NCAA and NIT champions, but four players got caught up in an illicit gambling ring, run by New York organized crime. The scandal involved players from six other schools, including Adolph Rupp’s 1951 NCAA champions from the University of Kentucky. In my eyes, UNC just got one national championship closer to the Wildcats.
Leave It: Harvard Man (2001)
Poor Ray Allen. How did he get caught up in this mess? Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a cheerleader from Boston College who gets her Harvard point guard boyfriend (Adrian Grenier) involved with her mob-boss father’s gambling ring. Even for the Ivy League, Grenier isn’t athletic enough to pull this off.
Documentary: Skywalker: The David Thompson Story (2004)
One of the greatest college players of all time deserves a great documentary. I can’t stress enough how ridiculously talented David Thompson was. Michael Jordan credits Thompson with sparking the public’s interest in a player’s vertical leaping ability. When watching Skywalker highlights, keep in mind that he played in an era where the dunk was outlawed. What a waste.
Classic: Space Jam (1996)
I’m calling this a “professional basketball” movie for a few reasons: (1) there really aren’t very many pro basketball movies, (2) I’m not prepared to put Semi-Pro in this spot yet, and (3) you could form a dynamite all-star team with the NBA players who make appearances. In honor of the Mixtape Monster, I threw in this clip of the Monstars getting nasty on the toon squad.
Check It: Slam Dunk Ernest (1995)
Don’t look at me like that. This movie is beyond ridiculous. Ernest receives a pair of magical shoes from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and then he…you know what, just watch the clip.
Leave It: The Cookout (2004)
One of the characters in this movie called it the story of the “Black Beverly Hillbillies.” When fictional player Todd Anderson signs a $30 million contract with the New Jersey Nets, he decides to throw a family cookout. Watch as the kooky characters and hanger-ons (including Ja Rule) come out of the woodwork to take advantage of his newfound fame and fortune. As offensively stereotypical as anything Tyler Perry has done.
Documentary: Michael Jordan to the Max (2000)
A film dedicated to the true GOAT, Michael Jordan to the Max focuses on the Bulls’ 1998 championship season. I remember seeing this in IMAX back when it came out, but it’s equally enrapturing on the small screen.
Classic: He Got Game (1998)
Timeless Spike Lee Joint about a convicted criminal (Denzel Washington) trying to reconnect with his superstar son (Ray Allen). The basketball scenes are good, even with Denzel’s janked-up shot form. Ray Allen manages to hold his own.
Check It: Rebound (1996)
No, no, not the Martin Lawrence kids’ movie, but rather the story of Earl “The Goat” Manigault, a Harlem playground legend who lost his chance at stardom because of drug addiction. Don Cheadle isn’t the most athletic actor, but manages to pull it off. I tell people about his movie all the time because I watch it every other month or so.
Leave It: Like Mike 2: Streetball (2006)
Here is an actual quote I found about this movie: “Jascha Washington, taking over from rapper Bow Wow, is likable and the new story is actually more believable than the original.” Seriously?!? A story about a second young boy finding a magical pair of shoes that belonged to Michael Jordan is more believable than the story about the first boy who found a magical pair of shoes that belonged to Michael Jordan? Maybe it’s because this one co-stars Kel Mitchell (I found him!) as a bumbling ballplayer.
Documentary: On Hallowed Ground: Streetball Champions of Rucker Park (2000)
TNT documentary about the world-famous Rucker Park and the countless legends that have played there. The film follows the team sponsored by Bad Boy Records at the renowned Entertainer’s Basketball Classic.
Classic: Go, Man, Go! (1954)
This film tells the story of the Harlem Globetrotters, from their creation in 1927 until they began playing outgunned all-white teams like the Washington Generals in 1953. Sidney Poitier plays an assistant coach.
Check It: Scooby-Doo Meets the Globetrotters (1972)
Classic basketball entertainers meet classic American Saturday-morning cartoon. Just ignore the firestorm of criticism these short movies receive from dedicated viewers. You don’t wanna be like those people anyway.
Leave It: Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (1981)
Do you really need to see the Globetrotters defeat a team of basketball robots in order to save a group of hapless castaways? I didn’t think so. Chick Hearn makes an appearance at least.
Documentary: The Harlem Globetrotters: The Team That Changed the World (2005)
Another must-see documentary. This film sports a gaudy list of celebrity interviews that touts Bill Cosby, Barack Obama, Chuck D., Bill Bradley, and Henry Kissinger. HENRY KISSINGER! He’s an honorary Globetrotter. Knowledge is power.
***Questions? Suggestions? Hate mail? Big Soda can be reached at email@example.com***