It is the slow time of the basketball season, and in the absence of games, we have turned to watching basketball movies. Some of them are absolutely amazing, and some are pure junk. We have to ask the question, which ones are actually the best ones. Look no further, as this blog is about to explain the top five, and also mention a few that you should avoid altogether. If you disagree, let me know, @SportsInfinity5.

Not Basketball Movies

Not basketball

Some movies have basketball in them, and for large chunks of the movie even, but are not actually basketball movies. In order for it to be a basketball movie, the plot has to be wrapped around the game, and not be mere background scenery. Here are some really good movies that feature basketball, but don’t qualify for the list.

Finding Forrester

Sean Connery is charming and fantastic in this film. Well, he’s Sean Connery, need we say more? He is a famous writer hidden away from the world, enjoying his privacy, until he takes a young basketball player, Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) under his wing as a writing protégé.

Wallace learns how to hone his gift, which extends “further than the basketball court”, and William Forrester learns friendship. F. Murray Abraham is great as the bitter school teacher that has it out for Wallace, and Anna Paquin plays a fellow student and love interest.

Though basketball is a theme in Jamal’s life, it is not the focus of the film, which is a movie about writing, friendships, and stereotypes.

Currently, Finding Forrester has a 7.3 rating on IMDB, and 79 percent from the audience on Rotten Tomatoes. My rating is 3.5 out of 5.

The Basketball Diaries

Though it has basketball in the title of the film, this is not a basketball movie. It is a movie about drug addiction, and overcoming life’s obstacles. In fact, if you cut out the few basketball-related scenes from the movie, it wouldn’t change it one single bit.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays high school basketball player Jim Carroll. He faces the pressures of success from an overbearing mother and hard-nosed coach and turns to heroin to ease his pain. He quickly spirals out of control, doing anything for drugs, including some bathroom prostitution. Reggie (Ernie Hudson), a friend and fellow basketball player, makes it his job to get Jim clean.

The film is well-acted, but the dark source material makes it a really hard watch, and almost impossible to re-watch. Since rewatchability factors heavily into my scoring system, I give this movie a 2.75 out of 5. Currently, it has a 7.3 rating on IMDB, and an audience score of 76 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Teen Wolf

Michael J Fox was a hot commodity in the 1980’s. He was on primetime television as Alex Keaton in Family Ties, and in 1985 he starred in Back To The Future and Teen Wolf. In the latter, he plays Scott Howard, a crappy basketball player, and a bit of a nobody at school. As he advances through puberty, he finds out that he is actually a werewolf, which runs in his family. Freaked out at first, he learns the werewolf version of himself is charismatic, a superstar basketball player, and quickly becomes the most popular kid in school.

While he is a basketball player, and there are plenty of scenes in the movie, the game itself was just to fill minutes. The movie is about high school, cliques, and coming to grips with who you are. He could have just as easily been a football player or boxer (see Teen Wolf Too). Currently, this movie has a 7.6 rating on IMDB, and an audience score of 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. My score for this film is 3.25 out of 5.

Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler has received rave reviews for his portrayal of Howard Ratner, a charismatic jeweler in New York. He has mounting debts and as collectors close in on him, he is willing to risk everything to stay alive. This movie also features the acting debut of Kevin Garnett but fails to be a basketball movie, since very little, if any of the plot, revolves around basketball. This movie is currently rated 7.4 on IMDB, and 52 percent by the audience on Rotten tomatoes.

Trash Basketball Movies

Not every basketball movie is a good one. Some of them flat-out make you cringe because they are so bad. Below is a list of movies so bad I refuse to give them a rating but will let you know how they fare with the masses.

Air Bud

A dog plays basketball and makes a bad human team, a good team. I think you get it. IMDB: 5.3 Rotten Tomatoes: 38 percent

Uncle Drew

The Kyrie Irving project was a full-length feature about the character he played in Pepsi commercials. The commercials were fun and entertaining, but making them two hours long is pure torture. The premise is an old man, who is quick as a young man, with a 40″ vertical, and amazing handle is going to find his old teammates (Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Baron Davis, Chris Webber, and Lisa Leslie) so they can win a tournament at Rucker Park against much younger players. IMDB: 5.3 Rotten Tomatoes: 38 percent

Semi-Pro

Some people like Will Ferrell and some people don’t. He definitely goes to the well of over the top, slapstick jokes a little too often for me. He has tried and failed every time he has tried to make a sports comedy (Kicking and Screaming, Blades of Glory). In this movie, he plays the owner and star player of a struggling basketball team. Lots of jokes about how poor the team is, how bad they are, and how cool everyone from the 70’s is. This movie is Ron Burgundy in a tank top, with an afro. Feel free to skip this one. IMDB: 5.8 Rotten Tomatoes: 38 percent

Like Mike

Calvin Cambridge (Lil Bow Wow) is 14 years old and is not even a decent basketball player among his fellow kids. Then he finds a pair of old sneakers, allegedly belonging to Michael Jordan, and when he wears them he is just as good as a mid 90’s MJ. Despite his age, he gets an NBA contract, and of course, he’s dunking all over legit seven-foot players. It may be a kids’ movie, but I didn’t see this until I was an adult and hated it. IMDB: 5.3 Rotten Tomatoes: 52 percent

Good Basketball Movies

The following movies are decent, even really good, but just aren’t good enough to make the top five. They are the runner-ups, or the honorable mentions.

He Got Game

I am not a Spike Lee fan. Outside of Malcolm X, I really haven’t liked anything else he has done. Denzel Washington mails in a performance here, but surprisingly, Ray Allen is actually really good. We also get introduced to Rosario Dawson as Lala.

The movie follows Jesus Shuttlesworth (Allen) who has been honing his basketball skills since his overbearing father (Washington) was imprisoned for accidentally killing his mother. Jesus’ dad has to convince him to attend Big State University, but as the top player in the country, he is being heavily recruited by all the major schools.

Aside from deciding his future (which also includes possibly going pro), he needs to reunite with his dad, who may or may not be interested in being in his life. The movie seems rushed and hopes the gratuitous images of sex and nudity mixed with basketball appeal to young males. I’d skip it, but it’s not as bad as some of the trash movies above. IMDB: 6.9 Rotten Tomatoes: 83 percent My Score: 3 out of 5

Glory Road

This movie is very much like Remember the Titans, but basketball. It replays the true story of coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas), and how he bucked the trend in college basketball to have a starting lineup made solely of African-American players. He is a high school girls’ basketball coach that gets his shot in college hoops, coaching the 1966 West Texas Miners. As a small school, he has a hard time recruiting the top talent in the country and starts to recruit solely black players. He tells them that, unlike other universities, he will give them the chance to start, regardless of race.

The team finishes 28-1, facing off against Kentucky and Pat Riley, but more notably Adolph Rupp, who is portrayed as a racist, convincingly by John Voight. The basketball scenes are great, and the story of the team and college coming together is a great one as well. IMDB: 7.2 Rotten Tomatoes: 81 percent My Score: 3.5 out of 5

Hoop Dreams

The documentary follows two Chicago area players going into their freshman years at St Joe’s (a private school where Isiah Thomas played). Arthur Agee and William Gates (who was on our podcast) have dreams of someday making the NBA. Agee is the lesser of the two prospects, and makes the freshman team his first year, while William makes the varsity. Arthur is sidetracked by his family finances and grades, while Williams struggles with knee injuries.

This movie won an academy award, and the deep dive into the lives of the two players is fascinating and entertaining. IMDB: 8.3 Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent My Score: 4 out of 5

Top 5 Basketball Movies

Now for the top five. These are the five best basketball movies of all time in my opinion. Feel free to disagree, but you would be wrong. Aside from my rating, I have included the public rating as well.

5. Love & Basketball

You could argue that this movie, like Finding Forrester, is not a basketball movie, because the heart of the story is a love story between childhood friends. However, the love story is permanently stitched into the heart of the movie.

Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) is a young basketball player, whose dad plays in the NBA (very Kobe Bryant). When a new family moves in next door, their kid comes over to play basketball with Quincy and his friends. When their hat comes off, it is revealed that the new neighbor is a girl. Hesitant to include her at first, she quickly proves to be better than Quincy, who shoves her just before she beats him in a game.

Fast forward to high school, and unlike her neighbor Quincy, Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) is not getting undivided attention from college coaches. She points out the double standard of how men’s coaches love Quincy’s competitiveness and trash talk, but when she does it, she’s labeled a trouble maker.

They eventually both get full scholarships to USC, fall in and out of love and follow different paths to their dreams of playing professional basketball. The love story is strong and enjoyable, and the intertwining with the game of basketball means, even a guy will like it. I did, and I recommend it to anyone. IMDB: 7.2 Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent My Score: 4 out of 5

4. Above The Rim

We are getting into my favorite and most-watched basketball movies. When Tupac Shakur dies at the age of 25, the world lost a great rapper. Maybe the greatest ever. Many, however, do not realize how great of an actor we lost. His first role was in the movie Juice, and immediately his genius was apparent. Above the Rim is his third film (I don’t count Nothing But Trouble), and he was fantastic in it, to say the least.

Kyle Watson (Duane Martin) is a high school basketball star, looking to get a full ride to Georgetown. He’s raised by a single mom and doesn’t always make the best choice in friends. When his buddy Bugaloo (Marlon Wayans) gets out of prison, he introduces Kyle to local gangster Birdie (Tupac). Birdie inflates Kyle’s ego so that he will play with The Birdmen in the end-of-season basketball tournament.

Meanwhile, Kyle is struggling to be a team player, and with his mom’s new boyfriend, Birdie’s estranged brother Tom Shepard (Leon). This is a really great film about basketball and the dangers of falling in with the wrong crowd. I highly recommend it to any basketball fan. IMDB: 6.6 Rotten Tomatoes: 82 percent My Score: 4 out of 5

3. Blue Chips

I saw Blue Chips in the theatre and came out of the movie completely pumped up. Why did I see it? Well, Shaquille O’Neal was my favorite player, and he was on the poster. But the better question is, why do I, as an adult, continue to watch it over and over? Because it is absolutely fantastic.

Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) is the coach at Western University. He is rough and gruff, but straight as an arrow. He was molded, for sure, after Bobby Knight who is also in this film. After a losing season, he gets out on the road to recruit three players to put him back in title contention. Neon Boudeaux (Shaq), Butch McCray (Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway), and Ricky Roe (Matt Nover).

It will take more than clever salesmanship and a visit from Larry Bird to make this dream a reality, and Pete realizes for the first time he may have to break the rules and pay players to go to college. A homerun performance as always from JT Walsh, who plays Happy. The basketball scenes in this movie are extremely realistic and shot in a way that makes your adrenaline go crazy. Nolte’s pregame speech at the beginning and his press conference at the end of the film are perfect bookends. IMDB: 6.2 Rotten Tomatoes: 51 percent My Score: 4.5 out of 5

2. Hoosiers

For years, Hoosiers was the gold standard, by which all basketball movies measured themselves. The basketball scenes were good for their time, but the story was tremendous.

Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) takes over a small Indiana high school basketball team in Hickory. It has been years since he coached at any level, after a scandal involving him at the collegiate level. He is welcomed to town quickly and realizes the townsfolk would like a hand in coaching the team as well.

The town wastes no time turning on the new coach after his bizarre coaching methods come to light. They feel the only way to win is with a new coach, and getting star player Jimmy Fleetwood back on the team. Jimmy states at a town hall meeting, he will only play for coach Dale.

A brilliant performance by Dennis Hopper in this film, and we get Barbara Hershey as a potential love interest (which I could have done without). This is based on a true story of the 1954 Milan High School team that won the Indiana State Championship, despite being a small school (Indiana does not separate schools into classes for the tournament). The story and acting are all way above par. IMDB: 7.5 Rotten Tomatoes: 88 percent My Score: 4.75 out of 5

1. White Men Can’t Jump

The greatest basketball movie of all time is White Men Can’t Jump. A Ron Shelton-directed film, the pairing of Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson is pure gold. The street basketball games are fun and entertaining, and we return a couple of other actors from the list. Duane Martin (Above the Rim) plays Willie in the Brotherhood Basketball Tournament. Cylk Cozart (Slick in Blue Chips, and another guest on Infinity Sports) plays Robert. Cozart was actually originally supposed to play Sidney, but the studio wanted Snipes.

Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) is a former college star basketball player going from town to town, hustling for a living. When he gets to the Venice Beach courts, he meets Sidney Deane, and the two concoct a plan that will make them way more money. Later it’s discovered that Sidney hustles Billy, and they have to win a tournament to get the money back. Billy loses that money, and this leads to a showdown with The King and Duck, at the end of the film, where we see that Billy can actually dunk.

The comedy is on point, and you will laugh at quite a few scenes. Rosie Perez turns in a solid performance as well. This is simply the most flawless basketball film, and easily the best one ever made. IMDB: 6.8 Rotten Tomatoes: 68 percent My Score: 5 out of 5

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