Basketball is as ingrained in American pop culture as any other sport in the country. Hoops bring people together on the playground and in the living room, whether its through idolizing NBA players to playing casual pickup ball with friends or strangers. The sport not only allows for athletic artistry to flourish, but the team aspect of the game makes for some incredible, inspirational storytelling. Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars have appeared in movies about basketball. The way basketball flourishes in specific sectors of the United States, such as the Midwest, also helps directors and writers to tell stories that involve the mashup of sport and geography. From documentaries about real-life people to more fictionalized versions of events, these 10 basketball movies capture the essence of James Naismith’s peach basket sport like no other.
One of the most recent basketball classics on the list, Hustle stars Adam Sandler as a basketball scout in pursuit of greatness. The film relies on a myriad of guest stars from the world of basketball, such as Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Kenny Smith, Anthony Edwards, Julius Erving, and Charles Barkley, to entertain and keep the attention of basketball fans for the duration of the Netflix hit. Sandler is a massive basketball fan; therefore, his infectious love for the sport shines in the performance and the story. Some of the guest stars play fictional characters, while others cameo as themselves.
The story of Space Jam isn’t anything award-winning. Michael Jordan hanging out with Bugs Bunny while battling the likes of intergalactic aliens is as far-fetched as it sounds, but kids absolutely fell in love with the cartoon/live-action combination in the 1990s. Michael Jordan’s star power propelled the film, and it remains a classic almost 30 years later, so much so that LeBron James carried on the legacy of the film in a 2021 sequel. Danny DeVito is probably the most famous voice actor in the movie.
Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes combine for some oddly satisfying chemistry in this buddy comedy about streetballers who leverage the power of Harrelson’s whiteness to win as many games of pickup ball as they can. Romance and crime elements make the comedy stand out, and it was remade with Jack Harlow in a Hulu exclusive in 2023.
For those more interested in the business side of basketball, Air is a true delight. The Ben Affleck and Matt Damon-headed film tells the story of how Michael Jordan became the most marketable athlete of the 20th century, garnering an endorsement deal with Nike and forever changing the company and the shoe industry. Jason Bateman and Viola Davis add even more big-name acting power to the cast list.
One of the longest running stereotypes about athletics is the way it overshadows academics in high schools across the country. Samuel L. Jackson plays the titular coach who is determined to put a stop to this phenomenon, forcing his players to dive head-first into their studies before they can return to the court. The movie is filled with inspirational moments and life lessons that even non-sports fans might enjoy if they give it a chance.
Race has always been a factor in basketball discourse. Glory Road tells a family-friendly story of a coach in mid-1960s Texas who ignores the racism of his community to give Black players a fair chance to compete with white players. The hard decision helps improve the team on the court but makes life hard for players and coaches off the hardwood when intolerant bigots don’t take kindly to the integration.
Denzel Washington and Ray Allen combine for one of the best actor/athlete tandems ever. Washington plays Jake Shuttlesworth, and Allen plays his son, Jesus. Jake is a prisoner who is given the opportunity to form a relationship with Jesus and convince him to play basketball for a politician’s college. NBA fans would continue calling Allen by his character’s name years after the movie came out.
Love & Basketball is sure to capture the attention of even the most hardened basketball fan. Two basketball stars who adore the game and each other try to navigate their lives as a couple in pursuit of careers in the sport they both love. The title of the movie refers to the romantic pairing at the center of the film and the relationship between people and sports. Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps shine as one of the best couples in sports movie history.
Sports are often viewed as the only escape for people who come from tough upbringings and environments. No film captures the trials and tribulations of this journey like Hoop Dreams. Real players William Gates and Arthur Agee are the subjects of the documentary film that will make you think, cry, and contemplate the value of basketball across America. The movie is nearly three hours, but roller coaster of events will keep you glued to your seat!
Hoosiers transcends sports movies. The tale of an Indiana coach with baggage galore who inspires his small-town team to compete for the state championship has been emulated but rarely duplicated in the decades since its release. Lots of corny dialogue and comforting acting make the basketball flick the best of all time in its category. Special shoutout should be given to the performances of Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper.
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