Sports movies usually fall into a predictable pattern whether its the much praised "Hoosiers" or "Remember the Titans". There is always a big game at the end of the movie that punctuates the theme of the movie whether it is "you have to have heart" or "adversity came be overcome" or "success requires sacrifice" or even "underdogs deserve our support" and several other cliches we could trot out. But few movies actually based in history have more effectively presented us with the intersection between racism in the deep South and basketball.
What is interesting about this particular movie is not just that there really was a remarkable event in 1966 when Texas Western beat Kentucky for the national championship with an all African American starting five, but the portrayal of the dramatic tension in the hearts of people who on the one hand want desperately to win and on the other hand are remarkably prejudiced against people who aren't like themselves. What happens if 'they' play for 'our team', which we so passionately want to win? Could the desire to be a winner really win the battle in the human heart with deep seated and long standing racist ideas and beliefs? Apparently, with at least some persons the answer is yes. This movie makes a point of noting a bigot of a booster whose heart changes when his team Texas Western keeps winning, and even wins the national championship.
This movie is well paced and does not have any filler in it, nor does it pander to the lust for gratuitous sex, violence, or foul language. This is a movie one can actually take your children to without saying "don't look". It tells the story of how Don Haskins went from being a coach of a girls' high school basketball team in Dallas to the head coach of Texas Western who wins the national championship in short order. More importantly it tells the story of brave black and white players who were willing to make sacrifices to be a team and accomplish something remarkable for the good of a multi-ethnic but manifestly prejudiced country during the turbulent 60s.
The movie has a good deal of humor as well as some poignant moments along the way and both Josh Lucas as Haskins and Jon Voight as Adolph Rupp come across convincingly in the roles they play. But the players on the Texas Western team also put in star performances as the story unfolds of how they overcame racist threats, injury, and illness, and considerable odds to win the championship. There is also an enjoyable soundtrack to back the movie with the 60s hits from Motown and Staxs records.
This movie will probably not win any awards, but as family entertainment that can serve as a basis for discussing deeper issues like racism, it is excellent, and it is short enough and action packed enough and humorous enough that children will enjoy it as well, even if they do not love college basketball like so many of us do.