Get in the mood for the big hoops games
OK, so the Super Bowl loss still burns, and the Penguins' season seems imperiled by Stalingrad-level casualties on the ice. But have heart, Pittsburgh — March is just around the corner. Basketball tournament season.
This year, a deep and seasoned Pitt Panthers squad could finally make a run to the Final Four, and Duquesne and West Virginia still have time to make some noise.
If last year's NCAA Tournament was a movie, it'd be blasted by critics as "overwrought," "unbelievable" and "one ludicrous twist after another." Remember the scare Robert Morris put into perennial power Villanova?
When it comes to basketball movies, there are way more airballs than alley-oops — and nothing comes close to doing for basketball what "Slap Shot" does for hockey.
There are many more sportsploitation atrocities like "Above the Rim" out there — which features special (obviously 9-foot) hoops so Tupac and friends could dunk.
This makes it easy, though. You can program a short basketball film festival to get hyped for tournament season, and be done in time for tip-off. Here are the essentials:
• "Hoosiers" (1986) Employs every corny trick in the book to get you to root for the underdog (like you weren't going to!). It works anyway. Gene Hackman diagrams the plays for every sports movie made since. Bring back those corny short-shorts and crew-cuts already!
• "White Men Can't Jump" (1992) Regardless of how you feel about the film's titular premise (dead-on in my case), this is a fast break-paced movie starring two guys who really can play basketball, Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. These two streetball hustlers with very different styles find that they can make fast money together, if they can resist the temptation to swindle each other. Yet, the true hustler, played by Rosie Perez, is a scene-stealing, shrieky game-show genius whose dreams are bigger than her small-time b-baller boyfriend's.
• "Hoop Dreams" (1994) It's hope vs. hype in this insightful documentary about the price you have to pay to get out of the ghetto on a coveted (but all-too-rare) b-ball scholarship. Where were you when we needed you, Coach Carter?
• "He Got Game" (1998) Spike Lee's underrated masterpiece about the most highly recruited high-school recruit in the nation (played by NBA star Ray Allen), and his incarcerated father (Denzel Washington), who can get a shorter sentence if he convinces his estranged son to go to a certain college. Awesome soundtrack by Public Enemy, typical Denzel star wattage, real-deal basketball action and a surprisingly great performance by Allen, who had no acting experience but probably knows a bit about the insane pressure of big-time college recruiting.
• "Drive, He Said" (1971) Two college guys, one war (Vietnam), two sides of the same All-American coin. Both represent the era's major mental states -- one disappears into his own paranoid delusions, seeing the malevolent designs of "The Man" everywhere. The other is a hyper-competitive b-ball player, compelled to dominate or die. Plus, no one does crazy like Jack Nicholson, who directed this forgotten mini-masterpiece with twitchy, nervous intensity.
• "Glory Road" (2006) By-the-numbers redemption-through-basketball flick about the 1966 Texas Western Miners — the first all-black team to make it all the way to the NCAA Championship. Josh Lucas gives a spirited performance as color-blind coach Don Haskins, who changed basketball forever by recruiting the best players wherever he could find them. Top-notch on-court action, and enough drama to keep pace, despite the otherwise inevitable outcome.
• "The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh" (1976) OK, so it's about as dramatically satisfying as Mean Joe Greene's famous Coke commercial. But it does have vintage Dr. J clowning his opponents, backed by a throbbing disco soundtrack — and the best use of "Pittsburgh" in a title, ever. This is essential viewing for Pittsburgh basketball fans only.