Let's be honest. Almost all sports films indulge in the almighty cliché. David vs. Goliath. Scrappy coach. Undisciplined players. Loving and understanding wife on the sidelines. Plus, we usually know the outcome of the big game. With this in mind, let's just have some fun and enjoy Glory Road, a good, albeit clichéd sports film that was just released on DVD. The story plays out against the backdrop of the civil rights era. Thankfully, frequent shirtless basketball games and tight shorts were de rigeur in the latter years of the Johnson administration. Every few scenes, Mehcad Brooks and Derek Luke rotate go-go boy duty as incentive to enjoy this better-than-average ensemble drama.
Glory Road is based on the autobiography of the same name by Don Haskins, a legendary coach who later became a Hall of Famer. The film recounts the story of a landmark 1966 game between the basketball powerhouse Kentucky and Texas Western University, a small school in El Paso. This was the first time five black players started in a championship game. Needless to say, the victory by the Texas Western Miners changed the sport forever.
The set-up is obvious. Haskins (Josh Lucas) accepts a low-paying job at TWU for his chance to break into the NCAA. Haskins recruits black players from places like Gary and Detroit—not because he was a visionary liberal, but because he didn't have a budget. (As in black players were cheaper.) The movie also doesn't mention that the team already had three black players. But that's typical Hollywood revisionism and no reason to become enraged.
Mehcad Brooks is Harry Flournoy, a streetwise but introspective kid from "GI"—that's Gary, Indiana, which has recently made the news. In a tightly-written film where many characters could be construed as stereotypes, his is probably the only black teammate that is allowed some depth. Harry is also the only character given to wearing tight-fitting, Gaultier-inspired double knits ...
While his buddies are out chasing girls, Harry "prefers to study." But, when Derek Luke makes eyes at Tina—played by the fabulous Tatyana Ali, who has grown into quite the Coke bottle mami—well, Harry (Mehcad) can't be bothered with her or his studies.
There's an absolutely wonderful side angle. Coach Haskins has developed a bond with Harry's mother. Mrs. Flournoy (Elizabeth Omilami) comes on down to Texas to straighten her boy out. Umm, force him to bring his grades up.
It's hilarious, she reminds me so much of our own mom. ;)
Red West is top notch as Ross Moore, the team's assistant coach and "spiritual advisor." This is 1966 and the south, and one would imagine? hope? that the film or characters would make some commentary on civil rights or Vietnam.
That's usually his job. There are more subtle alluisons to the troubling times, like waching newsreel footage or overheaing conversations. However, West's character makes some shrewd observations and is at his best when the team members are attacked by racist gangs.
The final game is interesting and very topical. The Miners are playing at Kentucky and the spectators are a sea of Confederate flags. It finally demonstrates the huge racial divisions that were (and are) in this country, and, allows the team some humanity. It's also ironic to note that Pat Riley, the current head coach of the Miami Heat and Dwayne! Wade!, was one of the lead players on the Kentucky squad. Unfortunately, it's been 40 years since that game and the nation is still deeply divided along racial lines—they are just much more subtle and insidious, as opposed to blatant discrimination.
Glory Road is a good sports movie and a feel-good film. It's not a spectacular ensemble drama nor a epic historical conquest. Here's an important proviso: It's a watchable film because it doesn't cater to that typical liberal Hollywood paternalism of "saving the natives", vis a vis Dangerous Minds or Mississippi Burning. Plus, the movie more than compensates for its shortcomings by affording Mehcad Brooks plenty of sweaty, shirtless and tight-double knit-wearing screen time.
Glory Road (Amazon)
Glory Road (IMDB)
Don Haskins (Wikipedia)
Don Haskins Interview (ESPN)
Previously:NBA Finals: Game Two (Rod 2.0) NBA Finals: Game One (Rod 2.0) Me(hcad) Love You Long Time (Rod 2.0) "Is That a Black Man in Your Bed?" (Rod 2.0) Kiss the (Boys and) Girls (Rod 2.0) Just One Scoop (Rod 2.0) People Under the Stairs, Part Dieux (Rod 2.0) The People Under the Stairs (Rod 2.0) Team USA: Oguchi Onyewu (Rod 2.0) December Clikque (Rod 2.0) The Many Faces of Boris Diaw (Rod 2.0) NBA Gay ... Err, Playoffs 2 (Rod 2.0) NBA Gay ... Err, Playoffs (Rod 2.0) March Madness: Dee Brown (Rod 2.0) Vernon Davis: "Click-Clack" (Rod 2.0)