Because we writers love to be undercover innovators, I've devised a groundbreaking plan to break up the monotony, Fresh Prince style. To help out, I've tapped into the philosophic practice of one Johnathan Tillman. Some of you know him as the superstar behind the hoops blog Fundamentally Unsound (FU), and others from the "Searching For the Answer" guest masterpiece he dropped here at Points Off Turnovers. Anyway, I've decided to solicit his assistance in my plan to alleviate the doldrums of our hoop-less summer. Yup, it's time to bring out the big guns.
Without further ado, I'd like to welcome you to our inaugural Hoops Movie Draft! In a heated debate featuring disses, jokes, and references to Sidney Poitier and black actors who can ball, Tillman and I went head-to-head to pick our favorite basketball movies from the Hollywood lexicon. It's on like Donkey Kong in Melee. Enjoy.
Before we get started, here were the ground rules for the selection process:
- No Docs: Yes, though it's tempting to select a hardwood classic like "Hoop Dreams" over an Enjoyably Bad Movie like "O" (I'll get to that concept later), it'd be impossible to whittle down the choices. Plus, I don't like making jokes about talented hoopers that bombed. I don't want to chance running into Arthur Agee in a dark corner of a Super Wal-Mart five years from now.
- No "Hoosiers": This one kind of evolved during the initial phases of the draft. I mentioned it in my Senior Thesis PowerPoint and intimated as much in my "Basketball and the Black Aesthetic" series, but it's worth mentioning again: "Hoosiers" reeks of racism. I loathe watching the championship game scene, which showers praise on an all-white squad for their ability to defeat the menacing black miscreants from the opposite side of the state. (We can debate this more in the comments.)
Since I'm about treating my guests like family, Tillman's got first pick. This way, you can make fun of his picks before I get in the ring, you dig? I'm not sweating the pick. Luckily, in a movie draft that's got more blue-chip prospects than the '96 Draft, there's nothing to fear. I know I'll get a solid squad. Where you at, Till Show?
1. J-Till selects…Duane Martin, Tupac Shakur, and Leon in "Above the Rim."
This is a solid first overall pick. It's not Lebron or Tim Duncan, but it damn sure isn't Kwame brown either. Hoops fans already know the plot. Talented inner city youth (Duane Martin) must choose between the purity of college ball--with "purity" being tentatively used, especially given the current events--over his ties to Birdie (Tupac) and the streets. But to me, Leon as Shep steals the movie. Playing one-on-one against an imaginary person with no ball and smacking the backboard as a bucket? Then playing a blacktop game in loafers and slacks? Yeah...crazy. For some reason, most Black movies aren't Black movies unless Leon's in it (see: "The Five Heartbeats"). Also, bonus points for "Regulate" on the soundtrack. Where is Nate Dogg, anyway? He went from singing diss track hooks on "The Boondocks" to...? Apologies for the digression, I'm just really worried about his whereabouts. Ok, it was a joke, but so what? What's he gonna do? He wears Dob hats. Alright, I've stopped for good. Your move, Money Mike.
Hollywood is a town of trends. Over the last 20 years, we've witnessed a 3-D renaissance, the glorification of Compton and West Coast Rap, the launch (and abuse) of CGI technology (thanks to "The Matrix"), as well as the gawd-awful Jennifer Lopez-era. However, one of my favorite en vogue movie trends was the Buddy Cop Era, a movement that took off with Eddie Murphy's epic feature film "Beverly Hills Cop" and chugs along faithfully to this day. The Buddy Cop blockbusters were cut from the same cloth: A socially inept but white guy teams up with a debonair and comical black guy to solve a mystery, foil a robbery, and end up forming a permanent friendship of mutual respect along the way. We had Enjoyably Bad classics like the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte collaboration "48 Hours", refined family comedies like "Lethal Weapon", and later…the blockbuster known affectionately by barbers everywhere as "That Movie With The Funny Karate Guy and That Dude From Friday" (Rush Hour).
In the same vein, "White Man Can't Jump" was basketball's tribute to the popular genre of the decade. Ron Shelton supplied us with our lovable loser (Billy), a straight-laced gym rat from the American Midwest looking to earn his keep by hustling black players who think him a chump because of his appearance. "Jump" gave us Wesley Snipes in his prime, fresh off "Mo' Better Blues" and years before he was forced to cop a jail cell with Mystical for tax evasion. Good times all around.The only bad part of this movie? The incorporation of the Wet Blanket Girlfriend. In a career-altering role, Rosie Perez plays the role of the girlfriend (Gloria) whose mission is to make our hero miserable along his road to redemption. And Billy LOVES her, on that "Once I get some cash, I wanna marry YOU!" level. Crazy thing is, after he shamefully drags himself to Sidney's house to beg for his half of the loot back, and sinks an impossible shot to give her the opportunity to dominate on Jeopardy, she walks out of him when he fulfills the ONE obligation to his running buddy. Geez, can she be a little more supportive? She doesn't even have a job! What the heck has she contributed?
How much do you wanna bet Billy's first unscripted reaction was similar to that guy from the ADT Home Security Commercials? "Wait…she's GONE? YES!!! I'M FINALLY ABLE TO RELAX!!!!!!"
The lesson, as always: Girls of the world ain't nothing but trouble.3. J-Till selects…Denzel and Ray Ray in He Got Game.
I'm Taking Shuttlesworth at #3. Not quite MJ at #3 back in '84, but it's at least Deron Williams at #3 in '05. While the main plot was good, it's the subtle nuances that make "He Got Game" a high-value selection. The prime example is, of course, the lovely Rosario Dawson, as "LaLa" (no, not this La La...shout-out to her though), a mischievous woman who tried to get Shuttlesworth to forego Big State U for pro dollars. The second intangible is the appearance by Rick Fox as the upperclassman that shows Shuttlesworth the college life. It's that he was talking about "hoes" and what not; it's that he was damn near 30 doing it.
But the third reason why I like "He Got Game" is that the legendary one-on-one scene between Denzel and Ray Allen is a real game. That means each one of Denzel's five points were unscripted; and the lines are partly written, partly ad-libbed. The story goes, Spike Lee had it written for Ray to win 11-0, but during filming, Denzel scored. Spike wanted to keep rolling to see where it goes, and the end result is that scene. Money Mike says that should've been Stephon Marbury as the lead instead of Ray-Ray; but given his current state and what he does now in front of cameras, it's probably for the best that he didn't get that role.
Once upon a time, Shaquille O'Neal was fifty pounds lighter and played center for the Orlando Magic. Before he gave us Shaq Vs. and Kazaam, Shaq and his dynamic running buddy teamed up with Nolte were to provide us what with was supposed to be "an unflinching look at college basketball". Instead, it became a classic riddled with bad acting (cough, Penny!), ludicrous scenes, and unintentional comedy. Simply, the story examined the life of a corrupt college program through the lens of Coach Pete Bell, the leader who compromises his morality and institution for a chance to bring the famed Western University back to glory. Eventually, Coach Bell can no longer deal with his team's dirty laundry, leading him to blow the whistle in a riveting press conference which dually secures his termination and exorcises his inner demons. Cut and print.
But I didn't pick this movie for the plot. Let's be honest: We've been down this road before. For me, the rewatchability of "Blue Chips" comes from the absolutely ridiculous scenes. Like when Coach Bell embarrasses the top recruit (Ricky Roe) during his college visit for requesting a handout, but Roe instantly forgets and attends Western University after getting a tractor delivered to his house in the VERY NEXT SCENE???? Or when Penny gets homesick and wants to transfer but fears for his mom's job? (Vintage comedic scene.) Or when the entire coaching staff is reviewing last year's championship game and notice that the star point guard commits 25 turnovers. You read that correctly. Veinticinco. Are you kidding me? If your star PG turns the rock over 20+ times in a game, don't you HAVE to suspect something fishy? It's like Barry Bonds' head going cantaloupe on us during the home run race.
Sure, the acting is cringeworthy, the cameos (Calbert Cheaney & Bobby Hurley…NICE!) are priceless…but unintentional comedy is what puts this over the top. You're up, Tillman.5. J-Till selects…Love & Basketball.
Never mind the hoops. What basketball-playing man wouldn't want to have the affections of Sanaa Lathan, only to leave her for Tyra Banks; and is STILL able to end up with Ms. Lathan in the end? I'm not sure if I'm more envious of this scenario or of the one Taye Diggs was blessed to have in "The Best Man." Nia Long...Nia Long. Wait, where was I? Oh, right, the actual movie. Every guy that hoops lives vicariously through Mike Tomlin's, uh, Omar Epps' character, "Q(uincy) McCall." I still hold out hope that I meet a female basketball player and we fall in love over a game to five. Double or nothing, indeed.
Don't sweat us…we'll be back with Part 2 of the draft in no time. When it's ready, we'll tell you to check it over at FU.
But until then, best keep your head on a swivel. Out.