Movie night: Five exceptional basketball movies

Sports have a long history on screen, and while there has been a long list of unfortunate misrepresentations of various sports, there has also been an abundance of fantastic movies that remind us of what we love about competition and the blood, sweat and tears that go into being the best at anything. 

At their best, these movies use basketball as a tool to develop character, raise stakes, and highlight hard work and pride. For anybody who needs a break from coursework or just misses pick-up basketball, The McGill Tribune has compiled a list of the best basketball movies to provide that cathartic release needed at the end of a long day of Zoom classes.

White Men Can’t Jump

White Men Can’t Jump is a funny yet serious movie that tells the stories of two men making a living in several now-iconic neighbourhood courts in 1990s Los Angeles. 

Throughout the movie, Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) takes advantage of the stereotype that he is not good at basketball because of the colour of his skin. This goes wrong when Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) catches on and looks to team up with Billy to scam unsuspecting players. 

To say this movie is about basketball is like saying The Godfather is about pasta. This movie is about cultivating friendships, making hard choices, and overcoming differences. On top of that, the movie features Rozy Perez and has fantastic basketball scenes. 

Love and Basketball

Love and Basketball is less about basketball than it is about a connection that binds two people whose love of the game surpasses everything else. Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) grow up next to each other, and while they come from entirely different backgrounds, they share a love for basketball. When they finally part ways after college, the two are unable to dismiss their connection to one another, and eventually rekindle their relationship after their professional careers. 

This movie gives a heartfelt depiction of the struggles that college athletes face when weighing the importance of an education against the glamour of a professional career, and the gender disparity in the world of sports.

He Got Game

He Got Game delivers a powerful, thought-provoking experience in line with what many have come to expect from director Spike Lee. This 1998 film features Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) as a top high school basketball player, and his father Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington), a convicted felon, who tries to persuade his son to accept recruitment to the State Governor’s Alma Mater in return for his release from prison. 

This movie highlights several topics. Themes of inequality, corruption, and family duty are rife, and the cinematography and acting are exceptional, especially when considering this was NBA player Ray Allen’s acting debut. 

Semi-Pro

This masterpiece of a comedy was Will Ferrell’s last movie in a string of sports-themed comedies. Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, a one-hit-wonder musician who owns and plays for his own ABA Basketball franchise in Flint, Michigan. Will Ferrell’s antics and the absurdity of his team management make this movie a delight to watch, while covering an important moment in basketball history that occurred when the NBA acquired the ABA, consolidating the leagues, and marking the end of small market teams. 

Space Jam

It is difficult to write a list of the best basketball movies and not include this cultural touchstone. Space Jam begins with the alien abduction of Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues. Their basketball talents are transferred to a group of aliens that form their own star team after they were challenged to a game by the Looney Tunes. With the help of Michael Jordan, the Tunes have no choice but to defeat the aliens in a game of basketball and save themselves from abduction. 

The star power of the cast and the combination of live action and animation make the film a spectacle to behold and a classic that holds up to this day.

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