Let’s be honest, few basketball movies do the trick in terms of entertainment value. Somehow clumped into the half-hearted caliber of the dance-off film, so many basketball movies have missed the mark in recent years. That being said, there are a few underrated films whose characters deserve a mention.
In this ode to the faux basketball player, we’re reminiscing on those roles that put a smile on our face. Any basketball fan knows that it’s hard to pretend to excel at basketball if you really can’t play, but a lot of these actors either impressed us with their skills or made us forget that they weren’t real players altogether. When you find a good basketball movie, you’ve got to respect the actors behind it.
And you have to watch it, again and again. If you haven’t seen any of the movies on this list and are a fan of the sport, take note. Some of these classic films are sure to redeem the art of basketball film making that’s been so wronged in recent years.
Check out our favourite fictional basketball players and the movies they made into gems.
Movie: Celtic Pride
Character: Lewis Scott, played by Damon Wayans
In the movie, the Utah Jazz threaten the movie’s main characters’ favourite team, the Boston Celtics. Seen as a showboater, Lewis Scott is the shooting guard for Utah’s dominating team. The main characters decide to sabotage his game in an attempt to help the Celtics through the NBA playoffs, but end up kidnapping Scott after a night of drinking.
This movie has that classic 90’s comedy vibe that you can’t help but love. While Scott’s attempts at escape are often painfully easily thwarted, we can’t help but love the character’s crass attitude and lame punchlines. He’s one of those lovable characters that somehow bring perspective and reason to a film that otherwise lacks those things entirely.
Movie: Love and Basketball
Character: Quincy “Q” McCall, played by Omar Epps and Monica Wright, played by Sanaa Lathan
Love and Basketball is a film true to its name. Centred around the lives of Quincy and Monica, a couple whose mutual passion for basketball creates a career vs. romance pull between two, this film is a favourite among many who grew up in the 90s.
We love Monica because her struggle pulls the reader in even more-so than Quincy’s. It tells the rarely told story of the pressures and decisions behind being a professional female athlete. We see the sacrifices she has to make, and we agree with most of her choices, despite not liking the way they feel at times.
Why do you love Quincy so much? Despite the story being told from Monica’s perspective, Quincy’s struggles and emotions are still oh-so-real. You can relate to his character and are rooting for him to succeed, both in love and basketball.
Omar Epps is still one of my favourite actors, so I may be bias here. But the movie’s mix of humor and drama really pulls you in and connects you to both Quincy and Monica. Who ever thought that one of a young girl’s favourite romantic movies could centre around basketball?
Movie: Rebound: The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault
Character: Earl “The Goat” Manigault, played by Don Cheadle
Okay, the movie is based on a true story so The Goat himself isn’t fictional, but Don Cheadle’s performance – especially as a non-ball player – deserves notice here. The Goat is the perfect example of an less-than-privileged kid growing up with too few options who, through hard work, has every possible chance to make something of himself. He’s the best ball player that they’ve seen, but life’s pressures soon get in the way.
We’re heartbroken for this character when he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant and when he starts using cocaine. We’re thrilled when he pulls himself back up and starts to do something in his community – Harlem – to make a difference.
This movie is probably my favourite on the list. The Goat’s story is a remarkable tale of how to bring yourself back from your lowest low. No matter your circumstances, the character proves, you can become who you want to be. No matter how many detours your life takes, you can find your way back. The message is a great one for younger kids and a good cautionary tale of the temptations and stresses that come along with fame.
Movie: White Men Can’t Jump
Characters: Billy Hoyle, played by Woody Harrelson and Sidney Deane, played by Wesley Snipes.
Whenever I mention my love for this film, I get mixed reviews. Sure, people remember it, but for some it was a serious miss for many.
Why do I love it? Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. The comedic surface of these two characters keeps you entertained throughout. Despite the friendship being based around some shady pseudo-criminal partnership, you believe in the motives of the characters – like Sidney’s need to provide for his family – and you want them to succeed.
I often forget that this film is twenty years old, but that’s a major factor in many of us younger viewers missing some nuances in the film. Despite, perhaps, living in a city that’s trying to force solidarity between white people and African Americans, these two have a beautifully natural friendship. Between politicians with motives and the general consensus that “white men can’t jump”, we get a glimpse of the assumptions that these guys are choosing to ignore. It’s a beautiful friendship between characters you can’t help but love, acted by two men who still bring light and relatability to the characters they portray today.
Honorable mention goes out to Blue Chips, a film about college basketball and the doping behind it. While the movie is a must-see, the characters in the film are real basketball players, none of which capture the audience’s attention as much as the staff within the film. If you haven’t seen this one, add it to your list.
Also, Space Jam just has to be mentioned here. Michael Jordan took us all on a fantastic ride with him in the 90’s and you’d probably be hard pressed to find any person who grew up in that decade and isn’t a fan of the film. That being said, of course, Michael Jordan is not a fictional character.