Basketball's stage is the hardwood. It's where stars shine, storylines come to fruition, and iconic moments are made.
Basketball has another stage, though. This one isn't a gym--it's the silver screen where we see hoops from a new perspective. When done right, it can be memorable, fun, and a fresh take on the game.
Basketball films inspire future generations of both ballers and Bugs Bunny-lovers alike. From Duane Martin playing a hustler in "Above the Rim" to Sanaa Lathan in "Love & Basketball" to Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Basketball Diaries," everyone has a basketball film they love.
Here are the best basketball movies of all time 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 the likable guy with roles like Todd in Breaking Bad.
Air Bud (1997)
Air Bud, which is based on an inspiring true story, tells the story of Buddy. Buddy is a golden retriever who escaped from the circus to chase his dream of playing basketball. Air Bud is quintessential viewing for any basketball fan, human or canine.
Blue Chips (1994)
All-time opening scene. Nick Nolte's performance as college basketball coach Pete Bell is excellent. 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. Bobby Hurley plays for Indiana in an alternate universe, 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 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 typical 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 rigorous 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 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 starred 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. At the same time, filming was scheduled after an abrupt 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? 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 film in this year's dunk contest.
Above The Rim (1994)
The 90s sure had a lot of basketball movies. Tupac Shakur starred 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 to the NBA and took on a city with 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 winning 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 head coach Ken Carter. He brings a regimented schedule and strict academic expectations that put an unprecedented season at risk. Young Channing Tatum appears in a supporting role in this tale about street ball versus organized ball.
Bad Boys (2014)
This ESPN 30-for-30 classic details the one and only Bad Boys of Basketball, the late-eighties into early-nineties Detroit Pistons. Their prerogative was to win. They didn't care how many times they had to bust up superstar Michael Jordan to do it.
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 terrific. Adam Sandler almost got his first Oscar for this sports film.
Docuseries: The Last Dance (2020)
Not precisely a basketball movie... but very close to it! The in-depth look at the Michael Jordan Bulls Dynasty was exactly what everyone needed in lockdown last year. It's too good a series, not to mention.
Honorable mentions: "Love and Basketball," "The Basketball Diaries," "Celtic Pride," "Finding Forrester."
MORE: The NBA's Shortest Players Measure Up to the Average Man
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