Thursday, March 19, 2009

MOVIES: The Basketball Interlude

The NCAA Basketball Tournament starts in about an hour and I think I should explain why there aren't any movies on my favourites list from the last century that I have been detailing this month. Especially since I consider these four days as the best four days of the year, better than my birthday and Christmas all rolled up in one.

That's because there's never been a truly great basketball movie. There was a good one last century in Hoosiers and a pretty good one this century in Glory Road. (I'm disallowing documentaries, like Hoop Dreams). But really, there's a dearth of good roundball movies.

Many, many of the movies feature depressing looks at the inner-city kids. Fine dramas, none of which I ever want to see again. I never stop the channel switching when surfing, to see how drugs and crooks have decimated life after life of potentially great basketball players. Most times, these movies are about off-court stuff, rather than what's on court.

On the other hand, there's movies like the 1979 duo of Fast Break and The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. Both are worth a chuckle, the first with Gabe Kaplan and the kids, the second at the sheer idiocy of Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar signing on to one of the worst movies ever.

Of course, both of those movies 'feature' the same type of ending, the one almost ALL basketball movies have. You know, the one where the conclusion comes down to the last few seconds of the game and the underdog's shot to win is always in the air at the buzzer. Ninety percent of the time, it goes in. Arrrrggghhhh! Just once, I'd like to see the underdogs AHEAD and defending against that last shot. Just once. Please!

There are THREE basketball movies that I fondly recall. The first was a 1951 black and white movie called The Harlem Globetrotters. I probably saw it when I was about ten. Two things still remain from that first viewing (I've probably seen it two or three times since). The dribbling artistry of Marques Haynes, who I saw in person much later (and he was ancient by the time) with the Harlem Magicians, and the sheer ability of Goose Tatum. The movie featured mostly actors in the non-player roles and the Trotters playing themselves. It was a different era and the clown aspect of the team was non-existent then, as they barnstormed against real teams, not the Washington Generals. Recommended.

Moving to more contemporary times, we have White Men Can't Jump in 1992 and The Air Up There in 1994. White Men Can't Jump was about playground hustling as much as it was about basketball and it really only lingers in memory for the title, a long-held belief amongst basketball fans. I'm guilty, even though I've seen pale men soar. It's just that it's so rare, that it can be commented on. On the other hand, I can offer you a much funnier experience without the racial angst in The Air Up There, which stars Kevin Bacon as a basketball coach on a recruiting trip to Africa. Yes, the ending is predictable, but the ball is fun and I still stop and watch any time I find it surfing. If you DON'T get shivers up your spine as The Mint Juleps sing Higher and Higher through the ending and into the credits, you're dead!

Enough reading this blog. Get back to watching the real thing on TV!

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