Say what you want, but there’s nothing quite like Basketball and that’s why we’ve compiled a list of some of the greatest hoop inspired films ever made. Enjoy!
Basketball films are special
If we’re all honest there is nothing like a good old fashioned sports movie. Regardless of the sport itself, there is something both magical and inspirational about the way in which a sport – any sport really – can motivate us to be more than what we or anybody else believed we could be. With that said, there are some sports and some moments which offer that possibility in a way that others can’t. Enter basketball. From the ‘Looney Tunes’ to the idea that ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ there are a whole host of films that showcase Hoop Dreams and the way in which they can lead to greatness. Now that we’ve got that established, join us for a look at some of the best basketball films ever:
With the Celtics having just just given an account of themselves in the 2022 NBA Finals, it seems only right that we start off with this one. Granted, Boston’s boys in green were unable to take home the trophy, but rest assured there pride and grit will never be questioned, even more so if you take a look at this film from 1996. Starring Daniel Stern and Damon Wayans and the notoriously funny Dan Aykroyd, the comedy co-written by Judd Apatow and Colin Quinn centers on a pair of Celtics’ faithful who would essentially die for the team. Facing Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, Jimmy (Dan Aykroyd) and Mike (Daniel Stern) decide to kidnap the Jazz’s best player, Lewis Scott (Damon Wayans). Needless to say from there things only get crazier, but rest assured its a comedic look at just what the game means to fans and players alike.
Released in 2002, the film is full to the brim with NBA stars and their cameo appearances. The tale of an orphan in search of a father introduces us to the protagonist played by a young Calvin Cambridge – most will know him as Lil Bow Wow – who has just found a discarded pair of sneakers with the initials MJ on them. After putting them on, Cambridge’s character finds he can ‘hoop’ with the best of them. In the end what ensues is an emotive look at the troubles that young players can face when making their way in the professional game.
The Basketball Diaries
Compared to other entries on this list, the 1995 film directed by the late Scott Kalvert, is perhaps the most dark of them all. Rather than offering an uplifting motivational look at how sport can bridge racial divides or offer a way out of economic and social destitution, the film takes on a much more difficult subject, which is to say how talent can be preyed upon by those who hold the keys to opportunity. Leonardo DiCaprio’s main character is never quite believable as a baller, but it must be said that this was the intention of Jim Carroll’s memoir on which the story was based. Instead, what we come away with is an exploration of how a young talent can quickly fall victim to the promise of more. Sexually abused by his coach and a subsequent drug habit to compensate, DiCaprio’s powerful performance gives an all too real glance at what happens when a bright star burns too quickly.
Above the Rim
Considered ‘new age’ in its time the film offered a somewhat more glamorous and fast paced look at the game of basketball. Indeed, with the title telling you just what you were getting into, the 1994 film gave us a good look at the visceral motion and experience that is the dunk in basketball. In keeping with that the story follows a hot shot street baller named Kyle (Duane Martin) whose integration into the structured world of high school basketball is made more difficult by his head coach and scouts who want him to play a specific way. Kyle’s journey albeit an egotistical one is only made more complicated when he gets in too deep with a drug dealer from Harlem played by the late Tupac Shakur. With additional appearances by Marlon Wayans and Bernie Mac, this one is definitely worth a watch as a paints a picture of the game and the youth that play it that is both exhilarating and frightening.
Though he needed no help, it could be argued that this film helped Michael Jordan to be bigger than he already was. Aside from a hit song off the soundtrack, the 1996 box office hit featured an extensive list of the NBA’s biggest stars at the time. With a mixture of animation and live action, basketball’s biggest and best got together with Warner Brother’s iconic ‘Looney Tunes’ characters to take on the “MonStars,” who understandably were the evil extra terrestrial versions of the the NBA’s greatest. Needless to say the aliens are taught a valuable lesson: Never mess with the GOAT.
Considered one of the most ‘serious’ on our list, this Indiana based film from 1986 will forever be considered the quintessential basketball movie. Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) rubs people the wrong way as Hickory’s new basketball coach instilling the fundamentals of the game. Meanwhile the small town’s best player, Jimmy Chitwood, refuses to play initially before finally agreeing on the condition that the aforementioned Dale remains the coach. What follows is an inspirational march by seven young men towards a title. Indeed, many will vouch for the fact that it was this movie that laid the foundation for the cliche – not in a bad way – motivational speech by a coach.
He’s Got Game
Directed by the ever provocative Spike Lee, the film is perhaps more of an exploration of the pitfalls of being a promising athlete than simply a movie about basketball. Former NBA start Ray Allen takes on the role of Coney Island prodigy Jesus Shuttlesworth who is on his way to being the No. 1 high school pick in the country. The legendary Denzel Washington plays Jesus’ domineering father Jake who has been granted parole by the state’s governor in exchange for convincing his son to play for the state. It’s an emotional ride to say the least.
A film that is considered by many to be the ‘Remember the Titans’ of basketball, Coach Carter – based on the true story of Ken Carter – embraces fully the energy that Samuel L. Jackson brings to the screen. Dictatorial at the least, Carter takes over an unmotivated team and changes its entire culture with some hard line rules and regulations. Indeed, it was the real Carter who famously locked out his 1999 Richmond High School team from playing until each and ever member of the team saw their grades improve. The movie tackles the ever controversial topic of the leeway that schools grant to their star athletes and why they shouldn’t. What we ultimately see is an uplifting and heartfelt look at why discipline is perhaps the most important factor in any endeavor there is.
Though many will remember it as the first time they heard the now late but famous Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ the fact is that at the heart of the film is perhaps one of the best basketball related films ever. Jamal (Rob Brown) is a prodigy in the making on the court, but he’s also something much more which is to say a promising writer. Soon enough Jamal finds himself in an unlikely friendship with an reclusive neighbor, who turns out to be a famous Scottish novelist played by none other than Sean Connery himself. What ensues is a deeper look into the idea that a baller can be more than just a hard head with athletic prowess. Get the tissues ready for this one, but also be prepared to come away with a smile.
The most recent on this list, the 2022 offering from Adam Sandler, hits you right where you needed it, while at the same time making you regret that you did. Though it makes no pretense about embracing old cliches of the sports film genre, Sandler’s down on his luck ‘Stanley Sugerman’ is completely believable and so is the foreign prospect played by Juancho Hernangomez, that he guides to the NBA and more over into our hearts. The story is most definitely one worth taking in as it showcases all too well what can happen when you simply don’t give up.