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7 basketball blockbusters that celebrate the sport we love

Coach Carter

Released: 2005

The Story: Based on a true story. Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) returns to his alma mater, Richmond High School in the East Bay region of California, to coach the boys basketball team. Carter asks each member of the team to sign a contract pledging regular class attendance and academic success and warns he will enforce consequences for breaking the pact.

Why We Love It: A mainstream movie that touts attendance policies and scholarly achievement, combined with on-court accomplishments and off-court teachings? Yes, please. And apparently, the box office even agreed. “Coach Carter” grossed $67 million during its run and ranked first in its release weekend.

The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh

Released: 1979

The Story: Fantasy meets comedy in the disco era, with Julius “Dr. J” Erving in a starring role as Moses Guthrie. To change the fortunes of the fictional Pittsburgh Pythons, a ball boy asks an astrologer for help. Her advice: Compose the team of players born under the sign of Pisces. (Hence, the movie’s title.) The team’s fortunes miraculously turn for the better.

Why We Love It: It’s a Dr. J dunkfest! You also get to see basketball legends Meadowlark Lemon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Connie Hawkins, Spencer Haywood and Lou Hudson. The acting is so bad, you can’t turn away. What’s not to love?

Glory Road

Released: 2006

The Story: The 1966 NCAA Division I championship captured by Texas Western, now known as UTEP, was historic because the Miners were the first team to start five African-Americans and win the national title. And they accomplished their feat against a finals opponent suitable for a Hollywood retelling: coach Adolph Rupp’s all-white Kentucky Wildcats.

Why We Love It: When the NCAA celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, Texas Western’s victory was tabbed as one of the top 25 defining moments of the Association’s first century. “Glory Road” is a worthy celebration of this historic moment.

Hoop Dreams

Released: 1994

The Story: The critically acclaimed documentary follows Chicago youth basketball players Arthur Agee and William Gates through their high school years and camps and on recruiting visits. Both hope to use basketball as a route to college and, hopefully, the NBA. Gates received a scholarship from Marquette, where he graduated with a degree in communications. Agee played at a junior college in Missouri and two years at Arkansas State. Neither player made it to the NBA.

Why We Love It: While the documentary is 2 decades old, it shows the social issues of race, class, economic discrepancy and funding for education. It also is a snapshot of the competitive world of youth basketball and the long odds players face to be college players, let alone play in the pros.

Hoosiers

Released: 1986

The Story: Loosely based on the 1954 Indiana state boys basketball championship won by tiny Milan High School, the Hickory Huskers take the basketball-crazed state by storm once star player Jimmy Chitwood decides it’s time for him to “start playing ball.” Once Jimmy joins the team, Hickory goes on a run that culminates in winning one for all the small schools that never had the chance to get there. 

Why We Love It: No list of basketball movies — and probably no list of sports movies — is complete without “Hoosiers.” Besides the fact that Hickory has a Cinderella story not unlike the ones that captivate college basketball fans in March, Champion appreciates coach Norman Dale’s creative way of reminding his players that the court dimensions of Butler’s intimidating Hinkle Fieldhouse, the site of the fateful state final, are identical to their gym back home in Hickory.

Love and Basketball

Released: 2000

The Story: This romantic drama follows the lifelong friendship of Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps). Quincy grows up dreaming of being an NBA player like his dad. Monica’s love for the game is just as intense, and she too has dreams of playing professionally. Both turn into high school stars, sign to play at Southern California, then eventually pursue opportunities to play professionally. Their friendship leads to an on-again, off-again romance, and the movie reaches its climax with a high-stakes one-on-one game. If he wins, he marries his fiancee (Tyra Banks); if he loses, he marries his childhood friend.

Why We Love It: It’s about love — and basketball. This film deals with relationships on almost every level: father-son, mother-daughter, player-coach, teammate-teammate, and the ever-evolving relationship of the two main characters.

White Men Can’t Jump

Released: 1992 

The Story: Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) and Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) take turns running hustles on each other until Sidney’s wife and Billy’s girlfriend persuade them to work together to win a two-on-two tournament.

Why We Love It: This film features some of the best trash talk in basketball cinema history. Many lines aren’t suitable for this publication, but anyone who loves the game can pull them out when the insults are flowing fast and furiously at the park. Some of the tamer ones:

“It’s hard work makin’ you look so bad.”

“We goin’ Sizzler. We goin’ Sizzler.”

“Don’t worry, Sidney. I’ve hustled a hell of a lot better players than you before.”

“Will we get a little competition? I got better things to do with my Saturday.”