The NBA Playoffs are (finally) into the second round and at long last we have gotten over an unbelievably uneventful NCAA Tournament. So, needless to say, we’ve seen some good basketball lately (apart from the Utah Jazz – jab!). Why not take a look at some of Cinema’s darker basketball moments? You know the ones – super-leaping little children tomahawk-dunking on some white doofus’ face when the glass shatters at the buzzer and the crowd goes wild. Those are the moments when people realize, and movies preach, life is not all about basketball. It’s about love, friendship, hard work, and sweat. Lots and lots of sweat.
It’s all still about basketball, though. That’s why the hero gets carried off the court on people’s shoulders. No one gave a damn about anyone learning a lesson, they cared that their team won the game at the last friggin’ second! Not only that, the team showed those jerks over at Opponent High (fighting Muskrats) that they were the better basketball players and therefore the better people.
Basketball is not an easy game to translate to the screen, but so many people have tried. Here are the worst Hollywood had to offer:
It’s not enough that Scott was inexplicably talented (and by that I mean, more athletic) as a werewolf, but somehow we are to believe that Michael J. Fox (all 4’6” of him) and his ragtag bunch of teammates (including the Fat Guy, as lovable as most fat guys) defeat the best team in the league? I mean, the Dragons even have a black guy or two on the team. Meanwhile, Michael J. jumpshoots his free throws. What’s that about? I think the lesson that the Beavers needed to learn was not about how they had the talent all along – it’s that their lack of fundamentals surprisingly got them this far.
As a side rant, I want to give special mention to Beavers’ forward #45. He has a smooth game, and is always following shots. He went down as an unsung hero to the Beavers’ amazing comeback, despite obviously being the star on both sides of the court. Subconsciously, I must have chosen to wear 45 in m high school playing days in his honor. Must have.
A quick disclaimer. This is not a bad basketball movie, really. They get most of it sort of right. Sort of. But there are a couple things to mention. The 1966 Texas Western men’s basketball team was historically relevant. They were college basketball’s answer to Jackie Robinson. They took on the giants of Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky basketball factory. They were not, however, an AND1 MixTape team. They played smart motion offenses, and didn’t rely on exuberance and showmanship to win games.
And, on a storytelling note, is it really necessary to stick nose prosthetics on actor’s to make them look more like the real life characters they are depicting. Were there Rupp lobbies trying to get Jon Voight to look more like the foul-nosed coach? I’m pretty sure 99.999% of Americans would not have second-guessed Voight, sans nose prosthetic, as Adolph Rupp. Call me crazy, but it just seems to show the loosely knit seams in filmmaking when I see a badly made, and unnecessary, face prop.
This movie raises more questions than answers, and fails Storytelling 101 in the first five minutes of the film. All basketball relevance and authenticity is lost when we see some kid smash his hand through the backboard then falling to his untimely death before the credits. C’mon. I didn’t even know that slapping the backboard was such a great feat. If that was the case, I should have been recruited to play college ball.
From that ridiculous scene on, the movie’ fighting an uphill battle – one not unlike the rest of the basketball games in the films on this list. And note that Marlon Shawn* Wayans has a role here. Just keep that in mind.
*Editor’s Note: Thanks for the correction, Anonymous.
Ernest has practically done everything. Actually, there’s very little he cannot do, probably because of some unbelievably improbably coincidence or magic shoes. In this one, like so many other basketball movies that try and teach kids that “it’s not about the shoes,” it is about the shoes. Ernest just wants to play basketball in a sort-of semi-pro league with his janitor buddies – but being a white hick – he sucks. Until, that is, he finds a pair of magical shoes that make him grimace his face when he leaps 12 feet into the air.
If that isn’t cringe-worthy enough, they decided to give the shoes a high-lilting coo every time he addresses them in conversation. They make Snarf from Thundercats someone you’d want to have a conversation with.
Cast note: Miguel A. Nuñez Jr.
See above cast note I am guessing that Miguel A. Nuñez Jr. had a bit of “star power” in the early 00s. He was probably ready to call the shots on his next acting gig, and I am guessing that he decided Slam Dunk Ernest didn’t showcase enough of his talent as a budding basketball player. So he brainstormed some star-vehicle basketball movie ideas that didn’t have him playing second fiddle to Ernest (that’s gotta sting).
His idea was about as well-rounded as the basketball in it. I won’t pretend I am a fan of the WNBA, but they should be greatly offended by the massacre this movie did to any credibility for women’s team sports. The sports film is usually an uplifting one, empowering a certain group of people – usually underachievers, but this destroyed that mold and is just a slap in the face. I am choking on my contempt. I apologize.
Quick cast note: Kim Wayans (aka Shawn Wayans’ sister), stay tuned.
I don’t understand the HSM movies. And I won’t pretend to. They are not for meant for me. I haven’t seen any of them all the way through. I know that Zac Efron is some sort of teen hearthrob and all, but I’m just not sure to which sex he’s a hearthrob. I was aware, though, that Zac’s character is into basketball, and that in the world of HSM, basketball is the jock sport of choice. That’s all fine, but I’m not sure they are playing basketball.
I can understand that teams have a trick play or two – especially any sports team in any movie, ever, but I don’t think singing while playing basketball would really throw the other team off. If anything, it probably just confirms the opponents superiority as they thromp the sissy, singing team.
I also admit, I had to read the title of the movie a couple times to make sure it was HIGH SCHOOL Musical, because those kids out there are middle schoolers. There’s usually a good amount of size, strength, and athleticism to real high school ball players. I may have been Zac Efron’s size in fourth grade (and, as long as he played his soprano offense, I think I could have taken him even then).
It’s the shoes, but it’s not. Christ! Li’l Bow Wow probably had way too much to do with this film getting made, which proves an old adage: “Hollywood is run by 12-year-olds.” Some producer, trying to not lose his tenuous grasp on the key pre-teen demographic, decided that the “so in” young rapper and that cute kid from Jerry Maguire (who had already grown out of his cuteness by the third act) should star in a movie where a kid plays in the NBA.
Interesting side note: even the Wayan brothers stayed away from this movie.
Do yourself a favor, put this one back on the shelf and watch Rookie of the Year, if anything you’ll see the original version.
If kids playing in the NBA isn’t enough for you, how about dogs? Okay, it’s not the NBA, but it’s one of the great copouts of movie sports – middle schoolers. If you’re not going to be able to translate the sport on the screen in an authentic way, why not bring in the kids who aren’t supposed to be superstars yet. Perfect. Add a pinch of canine and you’ve got a movie franchise!
The dog is cute enough, and I can be on Air Bud’s side most of the time, but really, once I take off my homer glasses (for the Timberwolves – the last time they were ever successful – uppercut!), shouldn’t he be called for about a hundred turnovers? Traveling? Moving screens? He has his nose in the kid’s crotch for chrissake, that has to be a foul. What is he? The John Stockton of doggie basketball?
It was because of this movies, the filmmakers didn’t make Most Foul-Prone Primate.
Kevin Bacon had to do a basketball movie. He had done everything else. So what better movie to do than one where he plays an assistant coach looking for the next Hakeem Olajuwon or Dikembe Mutombo? That way, you’re doing a basketball movie and a heartfelt tribute to Africa. Unfortunately, they butchered the basketball and destroyed any semblance of cultural sensitivity to African tribal nations.
I will say it has it’s golden moments, most of which are Bacon’s facial expressions as he re-injures his knee.
Marlon Wayans. In the 90s, the Wayans brand had some real comedy firepower, that was, until Damon and Keenan Ivory grew out of their comfortable adolescent humor, and gave the reins over to Marlon and Shawn. And, since the Wayans’ were employable black guys, white producers decided they should be basketball players. It was almost every basketball casting decision in the late 90s and early 00s.
WRITER: It’s about a basketball team. It’s a comedy.
PRODUCER: Get Wayans, the young one! Marlon!
WRITER: But it’s about a women’s basketball team.
PRODUCER: Doesn’t he have a sister?
The Wayans are a smorgasbord of casting choices for inept producers, and The Sixth Man suffers from not at least getting a funny black man in his role.
Celtic Pride – Damon Wayans, anyone?
Eddie – The downfall of Whoopi Goldberg (how it art akin to the fall of Rome)
Rebound – The downfall of Martin Lawrence (it art closer to the fall of Orange Julius).
— ROSS CONKEY
Ross Conkey is a freelance writer living in Chicago. He likes the Trailblazers and thinks basketball fundamentals should start with fun.
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