I’m going to discuss three movies in particular: one is a great basketball movie, one is not such a great basketball movie, and one is not much of a basketball movie at all.
What do they all have in common? They’re all movies that say something about basketball, and how basketball can change the way we live our lives.
When it comes to great basketball movies, most people tend to put this one at the top of their lists. For those few of you who don’t know it, Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes play basketball hustlers and Rosie Perez plays the girlfriend who tries to pull Harrelson out of his financial problems and ultimately fails.
What It Says About The Sport
Sure, his dedication to the game destroys his relationship with Perez, but that doesn’t change the fact that the film shows the sport as nothing less than an ecstatic experience.
Space Jam (1996)
1996’s Space Jam is not a great movie. It’s a “classic” only because Generation Y-ers saw it when they were kids. Nostalgia has a lot of power over people’s tastes in movies.
What can be said is that the movie represents the highest point of basketball’s influence on the mainstream culture.
There have been many basketball movies before and after, but Space Jam remains the pinnacle of pop culture’s awareness and reverence for the sport. At no other time would a film pit basketball superstars like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, and more against the like of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and then devote most of the movie to showing them play basketball.
You can criticize Space Jam and call it a transparent money-grabbing vehicle for Jordan’s return to basketball, but there is a positive message amidst all the bad acting.
Space Jam might be about superstars like Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny, but its message about the sport is democratic: as far as Space Jam is concerned, anyone can be good as basketball.
The movie’s opening scene says it all. We open on a ten-year old Michael Jordan (played by Brandon Hammond) practicing shots in his backyard after midnight. His father comes out and they practice together.
Ten year-old Michael Jordan: “You think if I get good enough, I can go to college?”
James Jordan: “Hey, you get good enough, you can do anything you want to, Michael.”
And that’s the message. When evil aliens steal the basketball skills of Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, and the other superstars, they don’t earn them like Jordan and the Looney Tunes, so they ultimately lose.
This message shines through to the end: it doesn’t matter if you’re playing against champions; if you practice enough, if you get good enough, you can win at basketball.
That’s a pretty glowing endorsement of the sport right there, folks.
Gary Ross’s 1998 film Pleasantville is not exactly a basketball movie. It’s an allegorical story that challenges the values of conservative 1950s white America. The film uses basketball as a way to fight these values, and that’s why the film made this list.
In 1950s repressed, white-bred Pleasantville, the school basketball team never misses a shot, and never loses a game. When Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon’s modern kids show up and start introducing modern values into Pleasantville, the game changes completely. A player shoots, misses a net, and the game stops. The team stares at the ball in shock and lets it roll down the court.
“Don’t touch it,” the coach says, petrified.
Winning and losing at basketball is a part of the game. Accepting losses is part of a healthy attitude towards sports and part of a healthy attitude towards life.
In Pleasantville, basketball becomes part of the film’s argument for the need to accept change and to accept that you sometimes have to earn your wins.
As far as the film is concerned, that’s a good thing for a sport to teach you.
These films say a lot.
But I think mainly they show the versatility and depth of the sport. And hopefully we’ll have more basketball movies coming our way soon to teach us even more.
Happy watching, movie fans!