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The 20 Greatest Basketball Movies of All Time

The 20 Greatest Basketball Movies of All Times Of All Time

20. Eddie

Starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Dennis Farina, Frank Langella, Malik Sealy, John Salley, Dwayne Schintzius

A limousine driver and a die-hard Knicks fan, Edwina (Eddie) has been attending home games for years at ’Madison Square Garden’. The new franchise owner Wild Bill Burgess gets interested in her and after releasing the head coach Bailey, he decides to appoint Eddie to coach the team.

There are many doubters around Eddie, including the Knicks players, but she is not a quitter. The roster is filled with selfish and prima donna guys, like superstar forward Patton (Sealy), a washed up veteran Wilson (Salley) and memorable Russian center Ivan Radmonovich, played by Dwayne ’Mullet’ Schintzuis, who became known more for this role than his professional basketball career.

But after the Knicks start winning and get close to making the postseason, two big obstacles appear in front of them. Their former coach Bailey now leads the Hornets team that stands between the Knicks and playoffs, and most importantly, Wild Bill intends to sell the franchise and relocate them to Saint Louis.

Rating: 7.0/10.0

Bonus: A bunch of NBA players played minor roles in this movie, including Vlade Divac, Mitch Richmond, Alex English, Dennis Rodman, John Starks, Gary Payton and Terrell Brandon.

19. Basketball Diaries

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Lorraine Bracco

A seemingly unbeatable high school basketball team is led by Jim Carroll, a prodigious talent who dreams of becoming the best baller in the world. Basketball is the center of Jim’s world and with that kind of attitude and work ethic, it looks like only the sky is the limit for him. But high expectations and real life problems slowly destroy Jim’s young life. His best friend is dying from a disease, coach Swifty is a hot-tempered and rude person who often insults his players, so Jim starts using drugs.

This drama shows what addicts are willing to do to satisfy their need for heroin and cocaine. Jim starts stealing, losing his reputation as a good guy and prostituting for money, just to buy heroin. His old friend Reggie tries to help him, but Jim ultimately ends up in jail.

Rating: 7.2/10.0

Bonus: The film is set in the 1990s, unlike the book that describes events from the 1960s.

18. The Other Dream Team

Starring: Arvydas Sabonis, Bill Walton, Dan Majerle, Sarunas Marciulionis, Arturas Karnisovas, David Stern, Jim Lampley

Though primarily focused on the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team that won the bronze medal at the Olympics, this documentary covers wider historical events, especially the fall of communism and the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Lithuania won two gold medals at European championships before the WW2, but during the Cold War their players needed to play for the Soviet Union.

At the end of the 80s, Sarunas Marciulionis became the first Soviet player in the NBA, and his countryman Arvydas Sabonis dominated in European basketball. Lithuania reestablished independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the USSR, and that allowed them to participate in the Olympics for themselves and their people. In the semifinals, the United States were just too much, but the game for the bronze medal was against none other than Russia.

Rating: 7.5/10.0

Bonus: Young star center Jonas Valanciunas and his parents appear and talk about difficulties and issues that majority of Lithuanians experienced in the post-Soviet era.

17. Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story

Starring: Duane Davis, George Kennedy, Nell Carter, Victor Love

The story follows the life of college basketball legend Hank Gathers, from his childhood, beginnings on the court, friendship with Bo Kimble, struggling on the USC Trojans team as a freshman, ascending with little known Loyola Marymount University and his tragic death on the basketball court during a game.

Gathers was compared with Charles Barkley because of his natural strength, agility and dominance under the rims. In 1988/89 Gathers became just the second player in NCAA Division I history to lead the nation in both scoring and rebounding, with averages of 32.7 ppg and 13.7 rpg. Against Nevada Gathers posted 49 points and 26 rebounds, and against Louisiana State team that featured Shaquille O’Neal he dropped 48 points plus 13 rebounds. 48 points on Shaq!

The Lions from Loyola Marymount played run and gun basketball under head coach Paul Westhead and led the nation in scoring for 3 consecutive seasons. In 1990, they were seen as a contender for NCAA title and Gathers was projected as Top 5 pick on NBA draft. But during a game against Portland Pilots, Hank collapsed and died from the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare heart disease.

Rating: 7.5/10.0

Bonus: Hank’s last words were: “I don’t wanna lay down!“

16. Fast Break

Starring: Gabe Kaplan, Harold Sylvester, Bernard King

A basketball fanatic from Brooklyn has a dream of making his living by coaching basketball, and he keeps sending letters to colleges in the hope of fulfilling that dream. One day David is offered a job of coaching the basketball team at Cadwallader University in Nevada. The job is low paid, but David is promised a lucrative contract if he can lead Cadwallader to victory over one of the top 10 teams in the country.

David accepts the job and brings along some players, who are a bit odd and weird but good players (spoiler: Swish, unknown to the rest of the team, is a girl). David is unable to convince his wife to join him, and now he has to choose between chasing his dream and saving his marriage.

Rating: 7.6/10.0

Bonus: Former NBA All-Star, scoring champion and Hall of Famer Bernard King plays a major role in the movie.

15. The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend

Starring: Tom Lester, Adam Guier, Nick Benedict, Millie Perkins

Pete Maravich was the greatest showman and ball-handler in the history of the game. He is the NCAA all-time leading scorer with 3667 points in 3 years (44.2 points on average), all of that before the 3-point line was even introduced and during the time when freshmen were unable to play varsity games.

His parents were Serbian immigrants and his father Petar ’Press’ coached a couple of squads. Press taught his son basketball fundamentals and demanded almost perfection from him. Pete earned his nickname ’The Pistol’ in childhood because he shot the ball from the hip, just like the cowboys used their guns.

In NBA career Maravich enjoyed great individual success with 5 All-Star berths, one scoring crown, multiple All-NBA selections, he scored 68 points in a game against the Knicks but finished his career without a ring. The movie follows Pete’s efforts to make the high school team, his issues with the coach who doesn’t understand Pete’s basketball genius and father-son relation that left a great influence on Pete’s life and career.

Rating: 7.8/10.0

Bonus: Press concluded the film with the advice to his son: "Give the fans a show they'll never forget, and they'll come back again and again.“

14. Sunset Park

Starring: Rhea Perlman, Fredro Starr, Carol Kan, Terrence Howard

Phyllis Saroka is a head coach of a high school boys' basketball team from the Sunset Park neighborhood in New York. The team is skeptical of her and her knowledge. When she walks in, one player is heard saying "Oh Lord, I know we gon' lose every game." During a game, Phyllis makes some bad decisions but that inspires her to learn more about the game of basketball with the help of her players.

The team is full of troublemakers: Shorty Doo-Wop is on probation, Spaceman is a drug-addict and has troubles with a teacher while Busy Bee is shot during the season. Developing new chemistry and improving steadily through the season, the team and Phyllis eventually find the right formula. They end a successful season by going to ’Madison Square Garden’ to face their opponent in the city tournament finals.

Rating: 7.8/10.0

Bonus: The film was produced by famous actor Danny De Vito.

13. Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team

Starring: Kevin Calabro, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Chris Daniels, George Karl, Steve Kelley, Slade Gorton, Wally Walker

A story about more than 4 decades long history of the Seattle Supersonics, highlighted by the 1979 NBA championship and the 1978 and 1996 Finals appearances. In 2008, the Sonics were relocated to Oklahoma City, despite loud protests by fans and former Sonics players.

This franchise had a lot of great stars during its history: Dennis Johnson, Gus Williams, Jack Sikma, Spencer Haywood, Xavier McDaniel, Dale Ellis, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and young Kevin Durant. The ’Key Arena’ was one of the loudest in NBA and had a very loyal fan base. Beside interviews with many players, commentators, and announcers, the documentary shows the importance of money in the present NBA league and that in modern basketball there is no place for emotions, tradition and loyalty.

Rating: 7.9/10.0

Bonus: Cable sports network ESPN Classic aired ’Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team’ 9 times in March 2014.

12. Above the Rim

Starring: Duane Martin, 2Pac, Leon, Marlon Wayans, Bernie Mac

The movie was shot in Harlem, the iconic place for basketball. Young and promising Kyle is a gifted player who is about to graduate and expects a scholarship from Georgetown Hoyas. While waiting for the response from the university, Kyle decides to participate in a playground tournament, but he must choose whether to play for his basketball coach or a neighbourhood thug Birdie (played by legendary rapper Tupac Shakur who displayed his acting talent).

Kyle is also feeling resentment towards a security guard Shep, because his mother is falling in love with Shep. This is probably the only film on this list that can get away with behind-the-back passes leading to thunderous slam dunks and showing the same clips from different angles. None other movie on this list has a better soundtrack.

Rating: 8.0/10.0

Bonus: 'Above the Rim’ starts with a flashback of Shep’s buddy Nutso falling to his death. Near the end of the film, it is revealed that Shep is Birdie's older brother. Due to the death of Nutso, Shep is unable to bear the thought of playing basketball again.

11. Rebound: The Legend of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault

Starring: Don Cheadle, James Earl Jones, Michael Beach

Possibly the greatest basketball player that never made it to the NBA league. Manigault was destined for greatness on the courts of the NBA, but his inner demons conspired against him. This drama finally tells the tale of one of basketball's greatest unsung heroes. When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finished his career with the LA Lakers and had his number retired at the Los Angeles Forum, he was asked who the greatest player he had played with or against was. He answered: “That would have to be Earl ’The Goat’ Manigault.”

Earl used his ridiculous vertical leap to grab money off the tops of backboards and reverse dunked 36 times in a row to win a $60 bet. But after becoming a drug addict, his career and life were put in jeopardy, and Manigault never fulfilled his immense potential.

Rating: 8.0/10.0

Bonus: Manigault is quoted in the New York Times article 'A Fallen King Revisits His Realm' as saying "For every Michael Jordan, there's an Earl Manigault. We all can't make it. Somebody has to fall. I was the one."

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10. Blue Chips

Starring: Nick Nolte, Mary McDonnell, J.T. Walsh

Blue chips are athletes, particularly high school players, targeted for drafting or signing by teams at the college level. Collegiate players being scouted by professional franchises may also be referred to as blue chips. They are perceived as "can't miss" prospects. Pete Bell, a college basketball coach, is under a lot of pressure. Dolphins, his team, aren't winning and to attract new players he must break the rules. The stars of the future Neon (Shaq) and Butch (Penny) are secretly being paid by boosters (this is forbidden in the NCAA).

Other schools are doing the same, so Pete must adjust or face the failure. After winning an important game, Pete cannot bear the guilt of having cheated. At a press conference, he confesses to the entire scandal and resigns as head coach. However, after he reconciled with himself, Pete is seen while coaching neighborhood kids and helping them develop skills.

Rating 8.0/10.0

Bonus: The movie was filmed in French Lick, hometown of Larry Bird.

9. Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius Hook Mitchell

Starring: Calvin Andrews, Antonio Davis, Bill Duffy

Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell is a former streetball player from Oakland. Many have suggested he had the ability to become one of the greatest NBA stars ever. Among the NBA players who grew up with Mitchell, and now speak of his talent with great admiration, are Brian Shaw, Antonio Davis, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton. Raised in the drug-infested, crime-ridden streets of West Oakland, Mitchell was born to a drug-addicted mother and father he never knew.

"Hook" Mitchell is considered one of the greatest basketball players never to make it to the NBA.

The documentary follows Mitchell’s path and how he, at just 5-feet-10, built his legendary playground status because of his amazing hops that enabled him to dunk 360 dunks over a car.

Rating: 8.5/10.0

Bonus: Mitchell was listed in Complex magazine as #10 on a list of the "20 Greatest Basketball Players to Never Play in the NBA."

8. 30 for 30: Bad Boys

Starring: Kid Rock, Mike Abdenour, Mark Aguirre

Few teams in NBA history were as great as the Pistons of the late 80s and early 90s. It was because of them that flagrant foul was introduced in NBA. They played tough, hard, dirty and gritty basketball and won the NBA championships in 1989 and 1990 while also appearing in the 1988 Finals when the Lakers were better (or luckier) in 7 games.

Led by one of the best point guards ever, Isiah Thomas, the Pistons were hated among other NBA fans and worshiped by their crowd. Coach Chuck Daly created ’Jordan Rules’ to contain Michael Jordan, and that tactic worked for 3 years. The Bulls were helpless against Pistons. They seemed willing to do anything to win. It was exactly that trait - their willingness to do anything for victory - that made them the "Bad Boys", the team fans loved to hate.

Rating: 8.5/10.0

Bonus: 1991 ECF were best remembered for the Pistons walking off the court in the last game just before it ended, refusing to shake hands with the Bulls that were about to advance to the NBA Finals.

7. Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals

Starring: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Steve Springer

A story about the greatest rivalry of two players in NBA history. It was also the rivalry that saved NBA from mediocrity and helped the league to gain worldwide popularity. It all started in the 1979 NCAA championship game between Michigan State Spartans with Magic and the then-undefeated Indiana State Sycamores with Bird. Spartans were better, winning the game and championship 75:64.

It is the highest-rated game in the history of televised college basketball. Bird was drafted by the Celtics as the 6th pick a year earlier while Magic was the Lakers top pick in 1979 NBA draft. Those two guys revived the old and fierce Celtics-Lakers rivalry with Greentime Boston and Showtime LA during the 80s. From 1980-1988, the only team that won the title beside Lakers and Celtics were the Sixers with Moses Malone and Erving in 1983. Lakers achieved more success by winning it all in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988. The Celtics did it in 1981, 1984 and 1986. They met each other three times in NBA Finals, with Celtics being better in their first matchup in 1984, but Lakers responded in 1985 and 1987. Both Bird and Magic won 3 MVP awards apiece in their careers, and they are among Top 5 basketball players of all time.

Rating: 8.5/10.0

Bonus: Magic Johnson said of the games against the Celtics: "When the new schedule would come out each year, I'd grab it and circle the Boston games. To me, it was The Two and the other 80."

6. Space Jam

Starring: Michael Jordan, Dan Aykroyd, Wayne Knight, Theresa Randle, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley

A group of evil Nerdlucks from the planet Moron Mountain is looking to capture Looney Tunes, who exist at the center of the Earth, and make them slaves. The Tunes, led by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck propose a basketball game with the Nerdlucks, counting on their lack of size and intelligence. But they didn’t know that the Nerdlucks have an ability to steal somebody’s talent.

Those ugly creatures took away talents from Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Larry ’Grandmama’ Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and, nobody saw this coming, Shawn Bradley?! What were they thinking? I mean the only Bradley’s talent is to be dunked on. The Tunes have only one man who can help them, and that’s none other than Michael Jordan. But, after unexpectedly retiring in 1993 and deciding to (unsuccessfully) play baseball, does he still have the game?

Will Michael’s legendary fadeaway shot be enough to defeat evil aliens and save the cartoon heroes?

Rating: 8.7/10.0

Bonus: This movie has one of the most recognizable soundtracks of the 90s, “I believe I can fly“ performed by R. Kelly.

5. White Men Can’t Jump

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez

After engaging in a local game, two streetballers, one white (Billy) and one black (Sidney) decide to play together and take the advantage of combining their skills. Billy makes his living by hustling streetballers who assume he cannot play well because he is white. Because of gambling debts Billy and his girlfriend Gloria are hiding from mobsters, and this is the reason why Billy accepts Sidney’s offer to play with him and hustle other players. But when they unexpectedly lose a game, it turns out that Sidney has double-crossed Billy, intentionally playing badly. Later they team up again hoping to get money, and Sidney mocks Billy about his inability to dunk by saying "White men can't jump“.

The big finale is when Billy and Sidney play against two legendary ballers, King, and Duck, and win the game with Billy’s alley-oop dunk.

Rating: 8.7/10.0

Bonus: Nike company teamed up with the makers of “White Men Can't Jump“ to introduce the package of new shoes inspired by characters Billy Hoyle and Sidney Deane.

4. Coach Carter

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Rick Gonzalez, Robert Ri'chard

Inspired by a true story from 1999 when Ken Carter, a successful sporting goods store owner, accepted the job of a basketball coach for his old high school in a poor area of Richmond. He immediately imposes a strict regime typified in written contracts that include obligations for respectful behavior, a dress code, and good grades as requisites to being allowed to participate. The initial resistance from the boys is soon dispelled as the team under Carter's tutelage becomes an undefeated competitor in the games.

However, when the overconfident team's behavior begins to stray, and Carter learns that too many players are doing poorly in class, he takes immediate action. To the outrage of the team, the school, and the community, Carter cancels all team activities and locks the court until the team shows acceptable academic results.

Rating: 8.7/10.0

Bonus: During filming, Cruz really fulfilled coach Carter’s condition to return to the team (Cruz needed to do 2500 push-ups and 1000 ’suicides’).

3. Glory Road

Starring: Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Austin Nichols

University of Western Texas Miners (known as UTEP Miners nowadays) won the NCAA championship in 1966 with the first all-black starting lineup, defeating powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats with Pat Riley and Louie Dampier 72:65. Led by Bobby Joe Hill, an iconic college player, David Lattin, Harry Flournoy, Willie Worsley, Nevil Shed, Scoops Cager and Orsten Artis, the Miners won 23 games in a row and their coach Don Haskins established himself as one of the best in the nation after being doubted because of relying on black players.

They finished as the champions, but the road wasn’t easy and sweet for Miners: they faced racial hatred, threats to Don’s family, beating of a player while on the road, the ravage of team's motel rooms by racists while they were at an away game and the loss of its last game of the regular season after the black players stopped playing with passion. Glory Road explores racism, discrimination, and student athletics but also acknowledges coach Haskins’ vision, the courage of his black players and the support of white ones.

Rating: 8.8/10.0

Bonus: UTEP Miners alumni were notable NBA players - Nate Archibald, Tim Hardaway, Antonio Davis and Jim Barnes.

2. He Got Game

Starring: Denzel Washington, Milla Jovovich, Ray Allen

Since its release, Spike Lee's ’He Got Game’ has stood out as one of his strongest joints. Telling the story of Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) and his strict father, Jake (Denzel Washington), the film follows Jesus, the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation, as he tries to decide where to play big-time basketball without anyone reliable to guide him through the process. ’He Got Game’ isn't afraid to tread into the shadier territories of recruiting, father-son relationships, and the importance of athletics in America as we see Jesus constantly at odds with those trying to influence him one way or another.

The question for Jesus is- will he help his father get a shorter jail sentence by committing to the college that the warden is rooting for, or listen to his heart and choose independently.

Rating: 9.7/10.0

Bonus: The group sex scene was shot with real porn actresses Jill Kelly and Chasey Lain.

1. Hoosiers

Starring: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper

This is a movie about a tiny Indiana high school that sends a team all the way to the state basketball finals in the days when schools of all sizes played in the same tournaments and a David could slay a Goliath. What makes ”Hoosiers“ so special is not its story, however, but its details and its characters.

From Norman Dale (amazing performance by Gene Hackman), who seems to be too old and too experienced to be coaching in a small town, the town drunkard Shooter who will become the assistant coach and whose son is playing for the Huskers, Jimmy, the most talented player who initially refuses to play for the team but later will back-up coach Dale and lead them to the championship and Myra, a school teacher who falls in love with Norman and doesn’t have many expectations from life after experiencing disappointments, Hoosiers offer much more than a simple basketball story. Dale’s speech before the semifinals game is one of the most memorable ever and deserves to be fully quoted:

“There's a tradition in tournament play to not talk about the next step until you've climbed the one in front of you. I'm sure going to the State finals is beyond your wildest dreams, so let's just keep it right there.

Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we've gone over time and time again.

And most important, don't get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game. If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we're gonna be winners!“

Rating: 9.8/10.0

Bonus: The film is inspired by the Milan High School team that won the 1954 state championship.