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Get Your Sports Fix: Our 9 Favorite Basketball Movies

Get Your Sports Fix: Our 9 Favorite Basketball Movies

(Updated 06/09/2020)

In a typical year we would be in the thick of the NBA finals right now. Since this is not a typical year, the season was suspended in March and we'll have to get out basketball fix from movies. (And, probably, ESPN's incredible history of Michael Jordan, "The Last Dance.")

There are great basketball movies, and unlike films that represent many other specific sports, basketball movies cover a wide range of genres and styles. There's a basketball movie for everyone — even the people who don't know a foul from a free-throw. Here are 9 basketball movies to make up your own festival that can stand in for the NBA finals.

Hoosiers (1986)

The Best Basketball Movies: Hoosiers

[Image Credit: MGM / Orion Pictures]

There are a few classic sports movie setups, and the tale of a scrappy team with more potential than polish is the cornerstone of the genre. As the title suggests, HOOSIERS is rooted in the Midwest, and since it takes place in the 1950s, well, the opponents in the climactic championship game look more like the teams we're familiar with now than the heroes do. Even so, Gene Hackman's performance as an unorthodox and volatile coach is one of the greats, and HOOSIERS had to walk so that some other movies on this list could run.

White Men Can't Jump (1992)

The Best Basketball Movies: White Men Can't Jump

[Image Credit: 20th Century Studios]

Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson (in his first movie star role) play trash-talking streetball hustlers Sidney and Billy, who meet on the court and soon team up to win easy money from marks who assume that Billy won't be able to play because he's white. WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP has great hoops, but it is really a comedy about ambitions and class differences, with Snipes and Harrelson perfectly paired as frenemies who realize how well matched they really are.

Above the Rim (1994)

The Best Basketball Movies: Above the Rim

[Image Credit: New Line Cinema]

The cast is amazing — Tupac Shakur, Duane Martin, Marlon Wayans, Bernie Mac, Wood Harris, and Leon — even if Tupac is once again playing a bad guy drug pusher. ABOVE THE RIM follows high-flying high school player Kyle (Duane Martin), who brings street style and flamboyant dunks to the game, flaunting the unpretentious fundamentals all the authority figures in his life want him to embrace. This movie is to basketball what the early FAST & THE FURIOUS movies were to street racing, and it has a climactic game that is as over the top — and as memorable — as that comparison suggests.

Blue Chips (1994)

The Best Basketball Movies: Blue Chips

[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures]

This sports drama based in part on the career of Indiana University coach Bobby Knight comes from an unusual creative combo: William Friedkin, the director of THE EXORCIST and THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and screenwriter Ron Shelton, who landed on this list thanks to his work as the director for WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP. And there's a lot of talent in front of the camera, too, as Nick Nolte plays a college coach who will use any tactic — including ones which are flat-out illegal — to recruit "blue chip" talent to his program. And with s Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway appearing as the players he tries to lure to his team, BLUE CHIPS has as impressive a pedigree as you could imagine — and dramatic heft to match it.

Hoop Dreams (1994)

The Best Basketball Movies: Hoop Dreams

[Image Credit: Fine Line Features]

You should be getting the idea that 1994 was a banner year for basketball on film, and HOOP DREAMS is the crown jewel. This documentary about two low-income teens competing for a shot at the NBA is exhaustive in its detail, with intimate and empathetic access into lives that, at the time, were not often given the spotlight. By offering a view into part of American life some people had never seen, HOOP DREAMS changed documentaries entirely. It's not a stretch to say that without this movie, many of the documentary trends we've seen in the years that followed — including "The Last Dance" — would not exist without it.

Space Jam (1996)

The Best Basketball Movies: Space Jam

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]

Speaking of Michael Jordan, how about an alternate history of what happened between when he stepped away from the NBA in 1993 and his return in 1995? According to SPACE JAM, he helped out Bugs Bunny and other Looney Tunes characters when they had to play against an alien squad that had stolen skills from other NBA players. For an entire demographic, SPACE JAM was their childhood sports movie, and therefore the event which locked in a lifelong love of the game. Plus, we get to see Jordan long-arm dunk on an alien, and that's worth watching a few times.

He Got Game (1998)

The Best Basketball Movies: He Got Game

[Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures]

One of Spike Lee's best movies is also one of his most often overlooked. Denzel Washington stars as a convict whose son, Jesus, is the top-ranked high school prospect. Future NBA star Ray Allen plays Jesus, and his legit talent on the court, combined with Spike's rapport with Denzel, helps bring the movie to life. HE GOT GAME doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the ugly business side of the game, but it also glows with a genuine, exuberant love for the sport.

Love and Basketball (2000)

The Best Basketball Movies: Love and Basketball

[Image Credit: New Line Cinema]

Spike Lee produced this romantic drama in which childhood sweethearts Monica and Quincy (Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps) have become next-door neighbors as adults — and both are trying to establish themselves as pro basketball players. Screenwriter Gina Prince-Bythewood made her directorial debut and embraced the opportunity to showcase women's basketball, which rarely gets the same screen time as the NBA.

Coach Carter (2005)

The Best Basketball Movies: Coach Carter

[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Like HOOSIERS, COACH CARTER is a riff on the familiar story of a tough coach guiding a team through difficult waters, and in some ways, this movie is a welcome update to the HOOSIERS template. It works thanks to Samuel L. Jackson's intense performance and the action on the boards as Jackson's character, inspired by real-life high school coach Ken Carter, who in 1999 famously suspended his undefeated team for their poor academic performance. You can also enjoy Channing Tatum's first big-screen role in this drama that tackles the intersection of ethics and sports and does so with a huge heart.

Looking for more sports? Read about one of our favorite baseball movies!

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