Space Jam: A New Legacy Is An Air Ball, But These Basketball Movies Are Nothing But Net

Welcome to “What’s Good,” where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world with a “rooting for everybody Black” energy. Enjoy!
What’s Good? One thing about me: I’m gonna watch a basketball movie. Space Jam: A New Legacy is in theatres and on demand today and while I hesitate to heap praise on a movie that isn’t even trying to hide its blatant attempt to brainwash children into loving a billion-dollar corporation as much as they love LeBron James, it is — by definition — a movie about basketball. And therefore, it is extremely my shit. When Space Jam: A New Legacy is at its best (which, frankly, isn’t often), it’s when James and the Loony Tunes focus on playing their wacky version of the game that calls James its King. So, while Space Jam: A New Legacy doesn’t exactly live up to the hype of its predecessor, basketball movies are very good in theory, and when the genre comes through like Curry in the clutch, these films are some of the best sports movies of all time. 
Who It’s Good For: Yes, if you like films about sports, grew up wanting to be “Like Mike,” or if you got the basketball jones (ooh baby), these movies are for you, but the best of the genre transcends sport altogether and gives us dynamic storytelling, charismatic characters, some pretty great love scenes (would I be me if I didn’t throw in some horny content?), and sometimes, a lil something for the kids. 

Before the push for “diversity” was the trend in Hollywood, movies that revolved around basketball were centering Blackness and its excellence in a game that has always been ours.

The genre isn’t just for Black people, but we are the best at it (give me Above The Rim over The Basketball Diaries any day — I said what I said!). And before the push for “diversity” was the trend in Hollywood, movies that revolved around basketball were centering Blackness and its excellence in a game that has always been ours. Plus, for people who think these films are strictly for straight dudes, from Whoopi Goldberg in Eddie (where she plays a Knicks superfan turned head coach) to Monica Wright in Love & Basketball (a WNBA queen before her time), I’ve also found some of my favorite onscreen leading ladies in basketball movies. Throughout the genre, there is something for everyone. Need some nerdy-Black-kid-who-can-write-prose-as-well-as-he-can-hit-a-pull-up-jumper-in-your-face representation, Finding Forrester has got you covered. Looking for a dynamic drama packed with daddy issues? He Got Game has entered the chat. What about a documentary about the reality of being a Black boy in America where there are only a few dreams available in a system set up for them to fail? Hoop Dreams is ready to rip your heart out. Those are just great movies, period, but when you factor in the high stakes of basketball and how the game is used to either propel the plot or act as its foundation, any lover of film has to admit how effective that is. 
Some might say that basketball movies are just for the kids. And when it comes to the Space Jam franchise (or Air Bud or High School Musical), that is correct, but just because something is made with children in mind doesn’t mean it’s not good. Both Like Mike (Bow Wow in his prime) and The 6th Man (Marlon Wayans also in his) have preposterous premises that rely on sci-fi and our suspension of disbelief to work, but somehow, they absolutely do. Part of their success is due to the charm of their leads (a skill LeBron still needs to hone when it comes to his off-court performance) but also because the backdrop of basketball is enough to get you invested — no matter how old you are. 
How Good Is It? You know the adrenaline rush of watching your team’s franchise player drain a game-winning shot at the buzzer (as a diehard Raptors fan, I’ve been high off this shot for two years)? That’s how a really good scene in a basketball movie makes you feel. In Coach Carter, after Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez) begs his coach (Samuel L. Jackson, in one of my favorite performances of SLJ’s exhaustive career) to let him back on the team and he turns him down, unless he does an exorbitant amount of pushups and running drills, Cruz’s teammates (including Channing Tatum and Rob Brown at their hottest) step in to help. The scene is more subtle than some of the movie’s more heavy-handed overly sentimental moments, but it’s just as spine tingling. Yes, I tear up every time. No shame. That’s the beautiful thing about basketball movies, they’ve got feelings on feelings and they aren’t afraid to emotionally manipulate coax us into letting ours out. There’s nothing more cathartic than a good cry to a great basketball movie. I dare you to make it through Hoop Dreams or Hoosiers (this is getting an honorable mention even though it has the caucacity of being a basketball movie without Black people — I know it’s a true story, my point stands) without shedding a tear. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy misses its shot because it cares more about commercialism and showing off Warner Bros’ IP than being a basketball movie.

We could debate whether the final scene in Love & Basketball makes Q a wasteman for leaving his fiance to let his ex play a game for his heart (it does), but that one-on-one scene is chock-full of emotion and it gets me every time. You can feel the angst, heat and yearning through the screen. 
Speaking of sparks, if I could liquify Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson’s chemistry in White Men Can’t Jump and inject it directly into my body, I absolutely would. White Men Can’t Jump is so good because of the dream team of Snipes and Harrelson, but also because it takes the raw energy of streetball and translates it into a perfectly-paced sports comedy. Pacing is part of what makes films that focus on basketball so good. The game is fast, and you need to be quick to keep up. Even in a slower basketball movie like Spike Lee’s He Got Game, the stellar performances by Denzel Washington and Ray Allen (in his acting debut) are so sharp, honest and gutting, watching them is as thrilling as a buzzer beater three-pointer. 
It’s probably blasphemous to the basketball gods to even mention Space Jam: A New Legacy and He Got Game in the same sentence, but while each film sits on either end of the basketball movie spectrum, both of them showcase the best (and worst) the genre has to offer. Both feature father/son relationships that are built and broken on their connection to basketball. Sure, He Got Game may take the game too seriously at times, but so does Space Jam: A New Legacy. So much of the plot hinges on the belief that playing fundamental basketball is boring, but it doesn’t even have enough fun with that concept to let the audience buy into it. 
There is going to be a lot of talk about whether Space Jam: A New Legacy’s failures are due to its acting (LeBron is not great, but neither was Michael Jordan in the original), its gimmicks (there are too many nonsensical cameos to count), its underuse of Zendaya as Lola Bunny, or the fact that it never settles on who this film is for (if it’s for the kids, why are there so many references to The Matrix?). For me, the biggest disappointment was none of the above. The main reason that Space Jam: A New Legacy misses its shot is because it cares more about commercialism and showing off Warner Bros’ IP than being a basketball movie. The genre deserves better than that.
What Else Is Good?
• The Phoenix Suns — that’s it. That’s what’s good.
• This didn’t make the cut since it isn’t a movie but the Netflix docuseries The Last Danceis better than any scripted drama of the past decade. You couldn’t write those MJ memes! 
• Re-watching all the best basketball episodes of your favorite TV shows, like that time on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when Will becomes the star of the Bel-Air Academy team and Carlton gets jealous, resulting in some of the most entertaining and hilarious on-court scenes in TV history. 
Kendall Jenner’s boyfriend in the first three quarters.
• As always, defunding the police.

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