One nation under Kurt Rambis: A salute to white basketball movies

“My name ain’t chump, it’s Billy Hoyle.” Spoken like a true white baller. In the real world of basketball, Caucasian men are reduced to the sidelines and cubicle betting pools. For every Bill Laimbeer who breaks on through to the other side, there’s four Marv “lipstick” Alberts or Bob “ambition” Costas’ putting all their weight into “it’s in the hole.”

And while it’s wrong for white commissioners to hate on current tatted rappers /players like Allen Iverson for throwing their women outside naked and popping nines, players like Bill “Court Marshall” Paxson and Mark “from the line” Price exuded grace under pressure, both on and off the floor. These guys wore their hair short, their socks long, and never touched a pair of Reebok Pumps. Oh yeah, and they also passed.

Life & Art decided to supplement an indefinite wait for the next great white hope (Van Horn?) with a considerably less passionate search for this elusive figure in the bowels of “white b-ball” cinema. We settled for a cringe-worthy cameo from Larry Bird, an extra large bag of Ranch Doritos, and numerous bottles of Guinness. In other words, we came up shorter than M. Bogues, but when that day arrives…

Celtic Pride
Dunks: 16
Non-white players: NBA

Damn, I mean “wowzers (sp),” this piece should’ve started with Hoosiers, because Mr. Aykroyd truly hits his underwear stride in this one. Unlike his classic Ghostbusters, this pile’s premise is somewhat believable: two middle-aged, white, depressed Boston Celtics fans (Aykroyd, and why not, Daniel Stern) kidnap an All-star, black NBA player (Damon Wayans) on a competing team in hopes that their beloved squad will capture one final title in Boston Garden.
Somehow, Aykroyd and writer Colin “where’s the remote” Quinn convinced the NBA that this puke was going to be a hit. The logos, the stadium, the commentators (a subdued Albert and Bill Walton), even Hall of Famer Bob Cousy are all legit. Worst of all, yes, Larry Joe Bird himself shows up at a club where he’s apparently “just having dinner with some buddies.” Gratefully, the patented Indiana accent isn’t dubbed over and we’re sure Lord Bird received top billing for 10 seconds of work, but c’mon, if Kevin McHale doesn’t need the dough…
Meanwhile, why the hell does this movie cost green to rent? It’s a botched advertisement for the NBA that belongs beside Windows 95 starring Shaquille O’Neal. On the other five hands, Irish Car Bombs are a great drink.

– HS

Harvard Man
Dunks: 12
Non-white players: 5 playing,
11 benched

Well, when every white, pot smoking, Harvard basketball star’s nightmare comes true (his parents’ moderate home is destroyed by a tornado), there is only one thing left to do: turn to the daughter of a mob boss for a loan, who conveniently happens to be a cheerleader, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. The fact that the plot is as stupid as it sounds is quickly forgotten when the last half the movie turns out to be sort of a Fear and Loathing in Boston Common. Regardless, puffin’ blunts while doing a doggy-style scene with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (clothed, still hot) is not a bad way to go through a movie; how much of this rings true in real college basketball has yet to be seen, or has it?
Alan, played by the very white-Euro Adrian Grenier (does that count?), throws up some suave layups, but the games are wack. Nobody can even figure out what’s going on in any of them until they’re over; but whatever, everyone’s tripping in this movie anyway (from sugar cubes synthesized from “original Swiss formula” LSD). I don’t know one dude on a basketball team anywhere but I’m sure they get laid a lot, so that’s pretty much the point here. I’m calling John Stockton tomorrow to find out how many Jazz girls assisted him thanks to layups.
To understand what this movie has to do with basketball you need to rent it, then call me, because as far as I can tell it was just an excuse to have another guy point a gun at the head of the star. Conflict sells; so does a greedy, sweaty, half-naked cheerleader.

– SB

The Basketball Diaries
Dunks: 1 (courtesy of Ernie Hudson)
Non-white players: 2

Neither a huge nor small success, The Basketball Diaries helped intravenously shoot Leo DiCaprio into stardom. The only real parallel between basketball and the theme of this flick is that DiCaprio and Wahlberg (yes, Marky Mark Wahlberg) spend as much time dribbling on the court as they do copping heroin in the street. Based on an autobiographical piece by Jim Carroll, Diaries helped render the image that tough honkeys exist, ones willing to break into ice cream parlors and watch guys plummet to their deaths from the roofs of anonymous buildings. The b-ball skills of these pencil neck actors are pitiful – dribbling above their heads. These guys were supposed to be All-Americans? Not likely. This looks like a video of my six-grade team if everyone on the team was a stoned poet.
Thankfully, Ernie Hudson (yeah, Winston from Ghostbusters) balls for a second and helps Leo’s character kick the habit, only to leave and let him pick it up a minute later. Ernie should at least have let Leo flex on him for a second, the slow mo editing is crap. Enough plot summary, the point of this film is that basketball and drugs can get you women and a movie deal, but too much of either can send you some place you never imagined (like living with a real Ghostbuster, damn yo!). Plus, Leo can’t ball anyway; Mark Wahlberg (with or without the ‘Marky’) could take him, at least in a workout video, umm, never mind.
At least the writer in this movie gets a chance to hook up with some blonde twins, well, half of some blonde twins. You should get the idea by now: heroin, homosexual pedophilic coaches, a Ghostbuster, and piss stained mattresses – this is the stuff that white guys love to make stories about. Unfortunately, they have very little to do with basketball.

– SB

Dunks: 0 (layups like butter)
Non-white players: 4 (when the Hoosiers enter the “big city” for the championship)

One reviewer referred to this film as a “sports fantasy.” Larry Bird would surely disagree. This film, about a sparse Indiana high school basketball team with high hopes, the Holy Grail of white basketball movies, is based on the Milan High School championship squad of 1954.
Gene Hackman stars as Norman Dale, a dedicated coach who arrives in an Indiana town “not on five maps,” to escape a shady (think Bob Knight) past. Soon enough, he has six (only six) scrawny white boys doing suicides and mastering the art of the layup. Director David “Rudy” Anspaugh presents the Hickory Hoosiers as a symbol of American purity (fans hold up signs declaring “you won’t crack our Hickory”). One player, Strap Purl, keeps praying before games even after the team “Amens.”To avoid the Hallmark stamp, Anspaugh throws in Dennis Hopper as a drunk/basketball savant who lives in an unkept cabin with his rifle and dogs.
Hoosiers is notable because it represents high school sports with a certain dignity that seems impossible today. This is 1951, before the Columbine massacre and hockey dad rampage. When the Hoosiers reach the Indiana state championship in Indianapolis, it’s culture shock – tall black competitors. They pull it out and then everyone fades into a photograph displayed in the high school gym. No NBA dreams, just white legacy.

– HS

Sven Barth can be reached at