Basketball’s stage is the hardwood. It’s where stars shine, storylines come to fruition, and iconic moments are made.
Here are the best basketball movies in no particular order, according to me:
Like Mike (2002)
This one is a staple of my childhood. It’s every kid’s dream to be a professional basketball player growing up, and Calvin Cambridge—played by Bow Wow—fulfills that dream after finding a magical pair of shoes worn by Michael Jordan himself. He earns a spot on the fictional Los Angeles Knights when he beats star player Tracy Reynolds in a one on one game. NBA stars Allen Iverson, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, and more make cameos.
This movie features a young Jesse Plemons, who continued his career as likable guys with roles like Todd in Breaking Bad.
Blue Chips (1994)
All-time opening scene. Nick Nolte’s performance as college basketball coach Pete Bell is great. He’s an old-school coach who has to sacrifice his ways as the college game changes. He seems ready to burst at any moment, and I’m all for a Nick Nolte freakout. In an alternate universe, Bobby Hurley plays for Indiana, and director Ron Shelton somehow got Bobby Knight to cameo.
Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway make appearances as basketball stars Neon Bordeaux and Butch McRae in their young Orlando Magic days. Remember when they play a full pickup basketball game in jeans and polos during their visit to Western?
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Hoop Dreams follows the true story of two inner-city Chicago teenagers—Arthur Agee and William Gates—during their days at St. Joseph’s High School in pursuit of reaching the NBA. The film shows the incredible lengths both boys go to in order to make their NBA dreams come true. Making the league isn’t just about basketball glory, it’s about starting new lives for their families.
Teen Wolf (1985)
Scott Howard—played by Michael J. Fox—is just a normal teenager. Like any 80s movie, he wants to be popular, his crush is getting it on with his rival, and his true potential romance has been in front of his face the whole time. Scott helps his small-town Nebraska high school basketball team win through werewolf abilities and gets a big head in the process. Werewolf genes are a PED in my opinion.
The sports movie of all sports movies. Hoosiers is the classic underdog story starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper. Hackman brings his troubled past and strict coaching methods to elevate the Hickory Huskers to a state championship.
This ABA comedy in the heydey of Will Ferrell reminds us all to strive for 4th place. The Flint Tropics are a victim of small-market bias you just hate to see. People are still asking: Is “Love Me Sexy” the most underrated one-hit wonder of all time?
He Got Game (1998)
Probably my favorite on the list. Denzel Washington and Ray Allen star as Jake and Jesus Shuttlesworth with a complicated past and shared love for basketball. Jesus is the number one basketball prospect in the country, and Jake has to convince him to go to Big State to cut his prison sentence short. Director Spike Lee even reconciled with Reggie Miller for a cameo.
I recently learned Lee wanted Kobe Bryant for the Jesus Shuttlesworth role, but Kobe wanted to train harder while filming was scheduled after a harsh exit from the 1997 NBA Playoffs.
Space Jam (1996)
Amazing soundtrack. Michael Jordan teams up with the Looney Tunes to take down the Monstars. MJ wins the game with an outstretched slam dunk while playing through contact. Multiple NBA players make cameos and Bill Murray helps save the day. Shawn Bradley is in this??
White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes star in this iconic movie directed by Ron Shelton (who also directed Blue Chips). A story about hustling in style. Pat Connaughton honored the movie in this year’s dunk contest.
Above The Rim (1994)
The 90s sure had a lot of basketball movies. Tupac Shakur stars as the antagonist and recorded a song for the film. Family and basketball intertwine for a heated final sequence all in pursuit of a basketball scholarship to Georgetown.
Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks (2010)
One of my favorite ESPN 30 for 30 films. Reggie is the cocky kid who never shuts up, but he’s so good you can’t do anything about it. He brought that with him all the way to the NBA and took on a city that has no problem speaking its mind. The Playoffs in the 90s were bloodbaths.
Glory Road (2006)
Josh Lucas stars as Texas Western basketball coach Don Haskins in another classic. Haskins made history by starting the first all African-American lineup and went on to win the 1966 NCAA National Championship, beating Kentucky in the process. Pat Riley has been majorly involved in basketball history since the 60s.
Coach Carter (2005)
Coach Carter stars Samuel L. Jackson as coach Ken Carter. He brings a regimented schedule and strict academic expectations that puts an unprecedented season at risk. Young Channing Tatum appears in a supporting role.
More Than a Game (2008)
More Than a Game documents LeBron James‘ high school basketball career and rise to superstardom. The story focuses on the bond between best friends and high school teammates as they play basketball at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.
Uncut Gems (2019)
I’m counting this. Adam Sandler plays a degenerate jeweler who’s always chasing that next win. He loans Kevin Garnett a special gem that elevates his game in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. KG has some acting chops and the Sandman is amazing.
Honorable mentions: Love & Basketball, The Basketball Diaries, Celtic Pride, Finding Forrester