‘Glory Road’ provides entertaining lesson in civil rights and basketball

With “Glory Road,” Walt Disney Pictures and director Jerry Bruckheimer took on two undeniably daunting tasks.

First, they had to effectively capture the story of the single most important game in basketball history in one motion picture. Second, they had to do so for an audience who largely was either not even born or not old enough at the time to understand the social significance of it.

The 1966 Texas Western Miners, the first team in major Division 1-A basketball to start five black players en route to a 72-65 victory over the University of Kentucky Wildcats in the 1966 NCAA Championship Game.

But you can read more about the momentous historical importance of the film and the team on your own. Just peep the accompanying story (see RIGHT) in this very newspaper for a deeper history lesson.

For the most part, the filmmakers did a stellar job of “edu-taining” its audience while holding true to the spirit, integrity and seriousness of the matter at hand. Save a few scenes that were too Disney, and “Glory Road”, named after the autobiography of legendary University Texas at El Paso head coach Don Haskins, is a pleaser for both the avid, and the occasional sports fan.

The movie manages to meld the reality of the racially charged 1960s without neglecting to portray the Miners for what they were at the time – a bunch of ordinary college kids achieving extraordinary things.

On the way to the championship, the Miners overcome bigotry and racism from fans, boosters, the media and even themselves. The underlying message of the movie transcends color lines. Oftentimes, to excel one must do so under pressure.

But on their way to becoming the catalysts for change throughout collegiate sports, the boys also get drunk, chase skirts and learn a lot about the world they live in and ultimately how they can play a role in changing it.

At the helm is Haskins, a former girl’s basketball coach who took the job at Texas Western for little to no money. He, his wife and their three kids lived in a men’s dormitory. From the onset, Haskins is a visionary. He wants to turn little old Texas Western into a powerhouse.

There’s just one problem: Football is king in the great state of Texas. So, there is no recruiting budget for the basketball team. Haskins knew the rules. You play one colored (that’s what they called black folks back then) on the road, two at home and three when you’re behind, as he was told by Ross Moore, the team’s trainer and “spiritual adviser” played by Red West. Haskins just cared too much about winning to follow them.

Josh Lucas’s portrayal of a young Haskins drives the nearly two and a half hour film. The grassroots recruiting effort by Haskins and his assistants fields a team of seven black players. Early in the season, the team struggles to find its identity playing the coach’s style of “fundamental, disciplined, defensive basketball”.

At halftime of a game versus a weaker opponent, the Miners’ best player, point guard Bobby Joe Hill played by Derek Luke, AKA Antwone Fisher, pleads with Haskins to “let us loose.”

After that, the team reveals a flashier but effective style of play reminiscent of the playgrounds they were recruited from. The team goes on to a championship win over the ballyhooed Wildcats led by controversial head coach Adolph Rupp.

Though the basketball in the movie isn’t that bad, it’s not exceptional either.  It’s nowhere near as good as the hooping in “He Got Game”.

There’s way too much super slow motion for me and the jumpers look like a couple of the actors learned how to shoot them on the set. And Al Shearer (Remember Hitz from the Street on BET) should never be absent for acting class anytime in the near future.

Truth be told, “Glory Road” isn’t the best movie you’ll ever see. It may not even be the best basketball movie you’ll ever see. But like former Texas Western point guard Willie Worley said in the movie, this is bigger than a game.

This movie isn’t just a flick to take or leave depending on whether you’ve got $7 to spare or not. This is American history and we should all put ourselves up on it.

Contact Nick Birdsong at thefamuansports@hotmail.com