Posted Dec 15 2009 1:43PM
What began innocently enough as an attempt to put together some shopping suggestions for Christmas procrastinators eager to please the NBA fans in their lives quickly took an ugly turn. In rounding up a handful of Hollywood movies that such folks might love, I realized several harsh facts of filmdom:
1. The best basketball movies, like Hoosiers, White Men Can't Jump, Glory Road and He Got Game, have little or nothing to do with the NBA. Most such films focus on college, high school, grade school or even the playgrounds, where the stories are rootsier, fictional teams are more believable and, presumably, the licensing negotiations are way less complicated.
2. Of those movis that are pegged to the NBA in some way, the quality has greater range than Ray Allen's jump shot, while the actors typically have range more on par with Ben Wallace. So even if you find some NBA-anchored films, you might not want to spoil the holidays with a thumbs-down flick.
3. Even when you settle on something from the subset of the above subsets, you realize your choices are limited again. The problem: Not all NBA-related movies are available in the popular DVD format, never mind new tech Blu-ray. For instance, if you search Amazon.com for a disc of The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh -- something of a Slapshot derivative, made in 1979, with featured roles for Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Marv Albert -- you either come up empty or get directed to "other sellers'' for overpriced VHS versions. Never mind that videotape as a format of choice might as well be 78 rpm records; it's clear that Hollywood itself doesn't think enough of the product to update with a DVD version.
Obviously, the NBA has been badly neglected by the motion picture community, Kareem's outstanding contributions in Airplane! and Bruce Lee's Game of Death notwithstanding. The industry is sorely lacking a proper World B. DeMille or Martin Scores-easy.
There is a little bit of hope on the way: Sweetwater, the tale of Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton and the NBA's integration in 1950, is in production with writer/director Martin Guigui of Sunset Pictures.
In the meantime, we managed to round up the best of the small bunch (please advise of any glaring omissions) for a list of gift suggestions, along with other possible items for serious NBA fans. Just be sure to open and view the DVDs on Christmas Eve, because the five real games the next day figure to have more action, drama and even comic relief than the fictional flicks:
1. Space Jam (1996): Some would say that, if this is the best movie with an NBA hook, don't make me sit through the worst. Still, it stars some of the all-time greats, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and the Tasmanian Devil. Oh, and Michael Jordan, whose two-dimensional supporting cast actually was two-dimensional for once. Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and others get cameos.
2. Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault (1996): Manigault, the reformed junkie and legend of the New York playgrounds who had a tournament named after him, didn't make it to the NBA; he allegedly had an unsuccessful tryout with the ABA Utah Stars. But Kareem said upon retirement that Manigault was the best player he ever faced, and in this biopic, Kareem played himself and young NBA players Kevin Garnett, Joe Smith and Mitchell Butler played Wilt Chamberlain, Connie Hawkins and Earl Monroe, respectively.
3. Eddie (1996): What was it about the hoops-mania in Hollywood in 1996? Something to do with Jordan's return to action and the NBA's return to prominence? Hmm? Anyway, Whoopi Goldberg is a rabid Knicks fan who gets the chance to coach the team in a public relations gimmick. Rick Fox, John Salley and the late Malik Sealy are three of the many NBA players who had parts.
4. Like Mike (2002): Jason Kidd, Chris Webber, Michael Finley and a bunch of other NBA stars -- including "Allen E. Iverson'' and "David M. Robinson'' in the official credits -- took part in this one, what the L.A. Times pronounced a "sure-fire heartwarmer'' about a little kid who becomes an NBA star by wearing magical "M.J.'' sneakers. The hero is played by Li'l Bow Wow, which means you have to be careful not to confuse this with the Air Bud franchise.
5. Forget Paris (1995): It was either forget Forget Paris or forget the likes of Celtic Pride, The Sixth Man and a few other movies that won't be enshrined in Springfield. This one at least has Billy Crystal's pedigree, with the longtime L.A. Clipper fan portraying an NBA referee who romances Debra Winger. Albert, Barkley, Bill Walton and a number of other familiar NBA faces are in this one.
1. The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam (1981): The NBA's Ball Four, except by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author following a Portland Trail Blazers team, was more probing than the ribald, expansion tomfoolery exposed by Jim Bouton with the 1969 Seattle Pilots.
2. The Jordan Rules, Sam Smith (1992): The title was spun from the Detroit Pistons' notorious defensive strategy for containing Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan. But in Smith's book, it refers to the rules by which Jordan lives and is allowed to function, the NBA's brightest star working within the Bulls' team concept (or vice versa).
3. The City Game, Pete Axthelm (1999): Actually, my choice here would have been Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story, which chronicles Hawkins' rise, fall and rise from the New York streets to a college gambling scandal that had him blackballed unjustly from the NBA, from his ABA adventures to his late arrival as an NBA All-Star with Phoenix. But that book is out of print, so we'll go with the 1999 updating of Axthelm's account of New York basketball in 1969-70, centering on the Knicks' NBA championship.
4. Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, Mark Kriegel (2007): There were two books on Maravich that were published almost simultaneously; the other was Maravich by Wayne Federman in collaboration with Pete's widow Jackie Maravich. Both are excellent reads. I'm partial to this one, which takes us through his pressurized upbringing through his white-hot NBA career and premature flame-out.
5. Seven Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns, Jack McCallum (2007): McCallum, Sports Illustrated's senior NBA writer, got the sort of access most of us only dream about, spending time in the Phoenix Suns' inner sanctum at the height of the Mike D'Antoni-fueled, Steve Nash-MVP-winning, high-revving offense. And it shows.
1. NBA League Pass (cable or satellite outlets): This is an embarrassment of riches, and I felt that way back when I was picking up the tab rather than getting reimbursed for my work here. The ability to watch so many games from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy is ridiculous. Two caveats: First, if you try to click through to all of them on a given night, you find yourself really watching none of them. Second, sitting back to watch hoops is a very hard sell at home -- uh, very, very hard -- when you're either at a game or on the road most other nights.
2. NBA on Sirius (satellite radio): If you have the equipment, either in car or at home, this is an aural version of League Pass. Take extra care when clicking at posted speed limits.
3. NBA 2K10 (Nintendo Wii, PlayStation3, Xbox 360): I haven't been a video game devotee since the arcade version of NBA Jam, but my nephew has been pestering for this one under his family's tree.
4. The Gun (Shoot-a-way.com): The manufacturer says The Gun is the best basketball shooting machine to date, and "will act as an automatic rebounder, instantly rebounding a made or missed shot and giving a direct return pass for another shot.'' You'll see these around the NBA on practice courts. The New Jersey Nets might become the first team to sign one to a guaranteed contract.
5. Road trip (you build it): Weather often is a consideration during the NBA season, but if you really want to treat Dad, Mom, Bro or Sis to an NBA fan's dream tour, you'd pile into the car and hit as many arenas as you could in as little time as possible. The East Coast, obviously, offers the most efficient options, including a side trip to the Naismith Hall in Springfield before, after or in between stops in New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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