It’s that time of year when the game takes over – when all things revolve around seeing those great match ups. You love every thrilling moment, every upset, every passion-filled play, and Basketball rules your life. And that’s the way you like it. There’s only one drawback and that’s the torturous time when there are no games being played.
Once you’ve exhausted all the hoop news, hoop analysis and hoop debate, what’s a fan to do? Well, allow me to offer you an assist and clue you in on movies about the sport that can help fill the time until the next tip-off. Seek these flicks out on cable or DVD, otherwise you’ll be stuck doing things that have nothing to do with all the hoopla like, you know, eating, bathing or, uh, working. Or even talking to people about things completely unrelated to March Madness… and nobody wants that.
There’s no tougher coach than one played by Gene Hackman – just try staring into those tough eyes without feeling like you were just punched in the gut. This is the true story of underdogs who become champions, basically the plot of almost every basketball movie. High school coach Norman Dale (Hackman) has a chance to take his Indiana team all the way to the state championship. With the help of an assistant coach played by wild-eyed Dennis Hopper, Hackman inspires his team to overcome the odds and find it in themselves to win (also a cliché of almost every basketball movie.)
2. The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh
This 1979 trash classic is so bad that sometimes it’s actually good. Stockard Channing plays an astrologer named Mona who helps a team of NBA rejects win. The “fish” in the title is a reference to the astrological sign “Pisces,” but nothing will explain the cameos by real champs like Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Julius Erving. Enjoyable it for its kitsch value and remember to turn off your brain.
3. Love and Basketball
A young black couple played by Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan share a love of basketball that connects their lives. This romantic comedy about the power of love and the game deserves to be rediscovered by fans. And the best part – women love this movie as it best explains why men are so passionate about sports.
4. White Men Can’t Jump
Woody Harrelson is a small-time hustler on the amateur court who takes advantage of Wesley Snipes in this unlikely buddy comedy. The humor disappears as the film turns into a solid drama. Rosie Perez is off the hook as Harrelson’s loudmouthed girlfriend.
5. The Basketball Diaries
Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performance as Jim who plays for the best Catholic high school basketball team in New York. Based on a memoir of the same name, the story descends into crime and drugs as Jim and his pals get into more trouble than recent NBA pros.
6. Michael Jordan to the Max
This short documentary film originally played on Imax screens when it hit the really big screen and documents portions of Michael Jordan’s last game as a Chicago Bull. Thankfully most of the action takes place on the court as we see the pure beauty and majesty of the way Mike played the game. It really makes you miss those old days when this class act dominated the sport.
7. Rebound – The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault
Another forgotten classic, this searing drama follows a basketball player recovering from drug addiction while teaching kids in Harlem to appreciate the game.
8. He Got Game
Spike Lee directs Denzel Washington in this powerful basketball drama. Washington plays Jake, a man who has spent the last six years in prison who is offered a choice – an early parole if he can convince his son to into signing a basketball scholarship with the governor’s alma mater. The best drama portrayed on screen about the pressures students face when selecting a college to play ball.
9. Fast Break
Gabe Kaplan rode his 1970s fame from the Welcome Back Kotter sitcom onto the big screen in this cheesy b-ball flick. Kaplan plays a coach of a collegiate basketball team where talent is sadly lacking. In retrospect, this film is very dated, it still holds up as mindless entertainment.
10. Air Up There
Kevin Bacon stars in this comedy as a former basketball who goes to Africa to find a new recruit. Hilarity ensues.
11. Above the Rim
This sports melodrama features the standard clichés, but what really makes it worth seeing is the performance by the late Tupac Shakur as a gangster.
South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker star in a sports movie that combines basketball and baseball and the result is a load of gross humor. This forgotten comedy classic is not really about basketball, it’s more about the age-old playground game of horse taken to extremes. The cast is rounded out by Jenny McCarthy as a gold-digging widow, Ernest Borgnine as a crazy team owner and there’s even embarrassing cameos by sports announcers like Al Michaels and Bob Costas that you’re not likely to find on their current resumes.
13. Hoop Dreams
This outstanding documentary about young teens who pursue their dreams to play basketball professionally has been called one of the best of the decade. Racism, poverty and politics influence every turn in the daily lives of those few talented enough to even have the hope of making it. But there are no guarantees and fate steps in as some rise to the top while others crash and burn.
14. The 6th Man
A sports comedy of the low-brow kind, The 6th Man stars Kadeem Hardison and Marlon Wayans as basketball-playing brothers. When Haridson’s character dies suddenly of heart failure, his ghost lives on to help his brother on the court. Ghostly jokes abound in this comedic romp.
15. Finding Forrester
Gus Van Sant directs Sean Connery in this drama focusing on a novelist who forms an unlikely bond with a boy named Jamal, a teen basketball star with a desire to pursue the career of a writer.
16. Sunset Park
Rhea Perlman coaches an inner city basketball team in this by the numbers b-ball movie. So why is this on the list? Well, I needed a total of 16. Unfortunately some teams competing in March Madness will suffer similar fates – making it into rounds when they really shouldn’t. But isn’t that what makes watching the game so exciting?