The history of basketball movies is strongly linked to the history of the popularity of basketball in the United States. If, in fact, this sport was invented and codified at the end of the nineteenth century on the initiative of the Canadian doctor and teacher James Naismith, it remained for many years a widespread activity especially at the university level, while the various professional leagues were regularly obscured by baseball and football. American football is most followed and loved by the general public.
Everything has changed since the 1980s when a group of great champions attracted the spotlight on the NBA: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and a whole host of other great athletes made the games interesting but also everything that ad they gravitated around, enormously increasing the media impact of this sport.
In those years, not surprisingly, films dedicated to basketball began to come out in the cinema, often focused on the more human side of competition; films that have not always had great success with us, because they are considered too linked to the American mentality or to a school system very different from ours, but which at home have become small cult phenomena.
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Sometimes designed for an audience of kids – this is the case of Space Jam or the recent Thunderstruck, played respectively by Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant -, at other times for educational purposes, they have often turned out to be almost unwatchable films, but in some rare cases, they managed to collect the acclaim of critics and the public: we will try to focus on the latter in particular. So let’s discover together five memorable basketball films that have also arrived in Italy.
The Exhilarating Ride of an Indiana High School
The history of every sport is full of great feats, of teams that manage to emerge from nothing and – thanks to the commitment, effort, and motivation – reach unexpected goals. These stories are even more exciting and therefore suitable for a film adaptation when they involve teachers and children, mixing the sports theme with that of the training film.
These are in fact also the ingredients of Colpo Vincente(in original Hoosiers, from the nickname by which the natives of Indiana are called), a beautiful film of 1986 starring Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper (who in the role of an alcoholic parent who is promoted to assistant to the coach earned an Oscar nomination and one at the Golden Globes) and Barbara Hershey and directed by David Anspaugh, making her feature film debut at the time.
The film tells the true story of Norman Dale, a long inactive coach due to an old suspension who is called to coach a high school team in an unknown Indiana town (land that has always been fertile for the game of basketball); here, despite various problems of acclimatization and even a citizenship motion to be fired, the coach manages to drag the team to victory in the state championship.
Set in 1954, the film is also characterized – as was very often the case in those years between the seventies and eighties – by a nostalgic vein for America, more naive but more genuine than in the past, in which the idea that the hard work and the redemption that this entailed could always be rewarded.
Who does not jump white is
The Playground’s Interracial Champions
On the other hand, the cultural background of Chi Consulta Bianco è is completely different, a film made a few years later (in 1992) but set in an America that is now fully contemporary, multicultural, and indeed crossed by increasingly dangerous racial tensions. In that same year, on the other hand, Los Angeles was put to fire and sword by the riots that broke out following the beating of Rodney King, while at the NBA level the Dream Team composed of two-thirds of black players was formed, at the Olympics of Barcelona, presented themselves as the strongest team of all time.
Just a few weeks before all these events, Chi non-salta Bianco è was released in American cinemas, a film that – in spite of the title that can make it look like a fourth-rate sports comedy – has its own raison d’etre and in its piccolo has won unexpected acclaim, including, at the time, even that of Stanley Kubrick.
The plot conceived by the director and screenwriter Ron Shelton (who specialized in sports films, since he has also put his signature on Bull Durham – A three-handed game, Blue Chips and Tin Cup ) plays precisely on racial prejudices: the white Billy (Woody Harrelson ) and the black Sidney (Wesley Snipes) go into business by challenging several black players for money on the California courts, managing to win decent sums thanks to the prejudice that whites would not be able to play basketball; the expedient, however, soon leads them to neglect their respective girlfriends, generating various personal problems.
The film is however a bizarre comedy that realistically photographs the environment of American playgrounds and “street” basketball, in which rules are completely different from those of the big leagues but no less fascinating or engaging.
He Got Game
Ray Allen in a One-on-one With Denzel Washington
Probably the most famous of the five films we have chosen, however, is He Got Game, essentially for two reasons: on the one hand, because it is written, directed and starred by the couple Spike Lee-Denzel Washington, who even before this film certainly occupied a prominent place in the history of African American cinema; on the other hand, for the presence in the cast of that Ray Allen who then became a living legend of NBA basketball, capable, just to give an example, of deciding last year’s final – at almost 38 years of age – in favor of his Miami Heat with a very difficult three-point basket at the last second useful.
Furthermore, despite having scenes played almost exclusively in New York playgrounds, this is, of our five, the one that most of all tries to paint the contradictions of American professional sport, in which talent becomes the cause of undue pressure and the approach of a series of vultures that, in a certain sense, “smell the money” and try to plagiarize any possible star.
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In fact, the plot centers on the inmate (for manslaughter) Jake, who is offered a substantial sentence reduction if he manages to convince his teenage son, a high school basketball star, to enroll at a university supported by the Governor of the State, refusing the numerous other offers that have been made to him; Jake’s momentary release thus becomes an opportunity to get closer – not without difficulties of various kinds – to the boy, also through a final one-on-one basketball challenge.
While Ray Allen took acting lessons, Washington trained hard in basketball to prepare for the film and legend has it that the final match between father and son was played without following the script (in which the boy was very easily right of the convict), with an Allen struggling to keep the black actor in his place.
When School Is More Important Than Basketball
The last two films that we present to you, the most recent from a chronological point of view, allow us to return to the environment of school basketball and the social role that basketball has taken on in recent decades in the United States: the sport invented by Naismith, in fact, it has long been the most “progressive” in the field of great American professional sports, both because it was the first to open up to integration (racial and not only ), and for the possibility of economic and social redemption, it offers to young people who often come out of difficult situations.
Coach Carter, a discreet 2005 film starring Samuel L. Jackson, focuses precisely on these aspects: inspired by the true story of Ken Carter, the film tells the return of a coach to his old high school, where he must first be able to motivate and improve his kids and then, however, to make them understand – even through an extreme move such as the lockout – that easy money and the sport itself must be put in second place compared to an adequate education that will allow them to leave poverty and backwardness where they were born and raised, looking for a better life.
The mix between sports movies, coming-of-age films,s and moralizing fables does not always work at its best, sometimes sinning an excess of rhetoric, but the film is well interpreted and provides a good cross-section of the role and interests that sport manages to stir up. school level.
The film is directed by Save the Last Dance‘s Thomas Carter and features Rob Brown, the protagonist of Finding Forrester, another film in which basketball plays an important role.
Glory Road – Winning changes everything
The Epic of the First Black Team in College Basketball
Equally uplifting, and therefore perhaps equally spoiled by an excess of rhetoric, is Glory Road too – Winning changes everything, a film made by Disney in 2006 and in Italy released directly on the home video market (but also broadcast some time ago by Rai 1).
Also taken from a true story, told among other things by the protagonist himself in an autobiography that in the United States was a real literary case, the film tells the 1965/66 season of the Texas Western Miners, the university team of El Paso who, coached by a coach – Don Haskins – practically at the debut and without a noteworthy history in the basketball field, managed to win the NCAA championship by deploying for the first time a starting lineup composed exclusively of black players (and meeting in the final the Kentucky Wildcats, whose squad was made up of twelve all white players).
The most extraordinary thing is that of that team, as strong spiritually as relatively technically gifted, only one player had a decent career in the NBA, Dave Lattin who played for the Warriors, the Suns, and other minor franchises.
Despite the participation, in supporting roles, of Jon Voight and Emily Deschanel, the film was made on a relatively low budget, playing everything on the emotional impact of the plot and on the skillful production of Jerry Bruckheimer, one capable, in his career, of launching blockbusters such as American Gigolo, Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Bad Boys, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and The Curse of the First Moon, not forgetting the TV series CSI, Without a Trace and Cold Case.
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