Basketball is a sport near and dear to my heart. I grew up playing it and watching it and continue to do so as an adult. I also think that after boxing, the sport of basketball has produced the best movies, which is what this list is dedicated to. Making this list wasn’t as easy as I thought, as there are a few really good movies that just missed the cut, but this is the definitive five when it comes to basketball movies. So, in honor of Uncle Drew coming out this Friday, a film I don’t anticipate cracking this list, here are my picks to the top five basketball movies.
5 – SPACE JAM (Joe Pytka, 1996)
Space Jam is on this list based on pure nostalgia. Did it tell an incredible true story like Coach Carter? Nope. Was it an authentic slice of basketball life like Blue Chips? Definitely not. Did it have arguably the greatest player ever to play the game playing basketball with the Looney Tunes? You’re damn right it did. Space Jam is a wildly entertaining, silly movie, filled a number of funny gags, terrific animation, and a great Bill Murray cameo. I still have a blast watching this movie 22 years after seeing it in theaters.
4 – WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP (Ron Shelton, 1992)
White Men Can’t Jump took the basketball game to the streets, showing us the grind and dangers of being a hustler on the basketball court. Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes are at their absolute best as a pair of hustlers who must put aside their many differences to make the most money possible. The basketball action is quick, the trash talk is hilarious, and writer/director Ron Shelton does a great job of bringing us into a world we’d never been before. White Men Can’t Jump is one of the great sports comedies ever.
3 – HE GOT GAME (Spike Lee, 1998)
There was once a time where Spike Lee was a great director. If you’re looking for a movie that proves this, He Got Game is one you should watch. He Got Game is a tough, complex, layered movie about the game of basketball and the affect that it has on family. Denzel Washington gives one of his best performances as Jake Shuttlesworth, the an imprisoned man and father of a top recruited high school player (played impressively by NBA all-star Ray Allen) who must recruit his son to go to a specific college so that he can get a shorted prison sentence. Lee tackles issues of family, redemption, regret, and love while dipping his toes in a coming of age movie and basketball movie. This is an emotional, riveting film film and one of Lee’s best.
2 – HOOSIERS (David Anspaugh, 1986)
There is a strong case to be made for Hoosiers to be number one on this list, and rightly so. This is everything we want in a movie. A true underdog story about a little basketball team from Indiana and their road to a state championship. Gene Hackmen is sensational as the tough-minded Coach Norman Dale, a man who’s coaching style and personality go against everything this small Indiana town is used to. The kids on the team are great and Dennis Hopper earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination playing the alcoholic father of one of the the players. Hoosiers is one of the greatest sports movies ever and would have been number one if not for a truly special film.
1 – HOOP DREAMS (Steve James, 1994)
Hoop Dreams is a remarkable movie in every sense of the word. An intimate, groundbreaking epic about two Chicago teens who’s basketball careers transpire right before our eyes. William Gates and Arthur Agee are two kids growing up in the Chicago projects, both with aspirations of making it to the NBA. We watch as they grow throughout their high school careers, from bright-eyed freshman to seniors where all their hopes and dreams have changed. No movie has ever put us this close to the characters. We are immersed in every asset of their lives, knowing their families and seeing how and why they became the men we see at the end of the movie. We witness the triumphs and the loses they each face, both on the court and off the court, culminating in a heartbreaking and inspiring film. This is a movie that shows what basketball means as a sport and as a way of life and shows what it means to follow your passion. For my money, this is the greatest documentary I have ever seen and is a definitive piece of art, culture, and what a documentary film should be, which is why Hoop Dreams is the best basketball movie.
What are you favorite basketball movies? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter and Instagram, @kevflix, or on Facebook by searching Kevflix.