Usually around this time, I would be settling into the NBA Finals. I'm a terrible basketball player (my father and brother had the skills), but I love watching the game. The trash talk, the alley-oops, the fading jumpers — it's high-speed poetry.
To get a hoops fill, one movie I always turn to is "He Got Game," now streaming on HBO. Writer-director Spike Lee's 1998 film is an operatic ode to basketball, complete with music from Aaron Copland. Past the montage of pick-up games and cameos, "He Got Game" sheds light on the constant pressure young, talented athletes face.
Ray Allen, a now-retired two-time NBA champ and owner of the prettiest jump shot possibly ever, stars as Jesus Shuttlesworth, the No. 1 high school prospect. As Shuttlesworth is unsure where he'll play college ball, his father, Jake (played by Denzel Washington), is in Attica, serving time for the accidental murder of Jesus' mom. As the fanfare for Jesus grows, the governor approaches Jake with a proposition — get Jesus to sign a commitment letter to Big State, get out of prison.
Those wanting a highlight reel will be disappointed. Instead, Lee shows how everyone wants a piece of Shuttlesworth. The advice is incessant as girlfriends, cousins and coaches are constantly in his ear.
"This is the most important decision in your life," real-life college coaches Dean Smith, Nolan Richardson and Roy Williams all tell Shuttlesworth.
Other offers include a Lexus, $10,000 in cash and a platinum Rolex that costs as much as a Corvette. Shuttlesworth turns it all down as his father races to make up for lost time. While Jesus has his entire life in front of him, Jake is still paying for his past. They are both men who are trapped in larger schemes. For Jesus, it will be the NCAA. For Jake, it's the state government-funded prison system.
"He Got Game" brushes against a lot of themes, and Lee isn't subtle about any of it. However, there's a bit of hope that maybe Jesus' future can include more love for his father, and that story is more meaningful than all the basketball highlights in the world.
Public Enemy's Chuck D says it better as the credits roll: "Damn the game if it don't mean nothin'."
Amazon Prime: "Dirty Dancing," "How to Train Your Dragon," "Shrek Forever After," available now; "Child’s Play" (2019), "Knives Out," available June 12; "Crawl," available June 18; "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," "Where the Wild Things Are," available June 30.
Disney+: "Artemis Fowl," available June 12; "Tarzan," available June 26.
HBO: "The American," "Doubt," "The Fountain," "Hanna," "Patch Adams," "Uncle Buck," available now; "Ad Astra," available June 6; "The Good Liar," available June 13; "Ford v Ferrari," available June 20; "Doctor Sleep," available June 27.
Hulu: "The American President," "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," "Casino," "Charlie Wilson’s War," "Constantine," "Dave," "October Sky," "Shirley," available now; "Child’s Play" (2019), "The King of Staten Island," "Poetic Justice," available June 12; "Buffaloed," "Crawl," available June 18; "Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band," "Charlie’s Angels" (2019), available June 25.
Netflix: "All Dogs Go to Heaven," "Cape Fear," "Casper," "Clueless," "Inside Man," "Lady Bird," "Observe and Report," "Silence of the Lambs," "Starship Troopers," "The Help," "Twister," "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," "Zodiac," available now; "Da 5 Bloods," available June 12.