Warning! This site contains satire, cynical adult humor, celebrity gossip, and an occasional peanut by-product or two!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Glory Road

So I traipsed with great trepidation to the Essex Outlet Cinemas last night to see Glory Road, asking myself how I could possibly have anything to say about a basketball movie. I've never even seen a basketball game in my entire life. I've always equated basketball with a lot of screaming men, chain smoking in my father's den, drinking beer and eating copious amounts of junk food and swearing on weekend afternoons while my mother and I huddled in the kitchen like it was a bomb shelter/sandwich shop where our protection against the H-Bomb depended on our supplying the enemy with a constant stream of hoagies and Fritos and Buds, oh my!

Of course, the lobby of the Essex Outlet Cinemas was completely free of any such drama before the show. The Chapmans were both in attendance, and they were as charming and as welcoming as always. There were no drunken curses or children curled in the corners, screaming "Don't hit me, Daddy" like I flashed back to after the time I accidently spilled the pitcher of Funny Face Rootin'-Tootin' Raspberry on the avocado green shag carpeting right in front of the brand new Magnavox. Not that I was free-associating or anything, but I began to feel faint until Heather waved the restorative scent of fresh popcorn in my direction which
always acts like a grounding agent and brings me back to my "happy place" next to the concession stand. And much like Dorothy Gale I found myself looking into the faces of Dale and Karen and Rob and Heather and realizing there was no place like the Essex Outlet Cinemas, there was no place like the Essex Outlet Cinemas. Somehow I knew I could make it into Theater 3 and brave this unchartered territory called Glory Road whether I had my ruby slippers with me or not.

I can tell you that all the whoop-de-doo about a certain "gay cowboy movie" not playing at the Essex Outlet Cinemas has nothing on Glory Road. If people are going to get upset about all this man-on-man touching, then Glory Road is where they need to worry. I've never seen so much hot man butt-slapping, man-lovin', mano a mano bonding and playing as in this film. Even the game itself sounds nasty. It is full of shooting and dribbling, and fouling and going long... no wonder my father needed a cigarette at the end of every quarter, but, as usual, I think I've digressed...

Actually, Glory Road is much more (and less) than my dirty mind portends. While it does follow the true story of the Texas Western Tech basketball team of 1965-66, it is by far a much
greater story than that of a basketball team. It is hard to imagine that only 40 years ago the "n" word as it is now called was spoken casually in both its' syllables in conversation amongst bigoted whites, that segregation was still more the rule than the exception, and that there were white people in this country who had never met yet alone talked to an African American person.

Glory Road follows Don Haskins (aptly played by Josh Lucas, who should have been a big star long before this film) who comes to the school as a questionable entity, having been a girls' high school basketball coach before now. His job is basically to put together a "reasonable" basketball team, not one meant for history but simply to appease the school's donors and alumni. What nobody expected was that Haskins would take the job quite so seriously and absolutely intend to build the best team he could find. Unfortunately, Texas Western was considered a little "nothing" school in El Paso and nobody with any potential to become a professional player wanted to waste their time on Haskins or his pipsqueak of a school. So when things look grim the answer is always obvious, right? Road trip! Haskins and his assistants head off north and scout out the best street players they can find and promise them scholarships and a chance they know they'd never have otherwise. The catch? For the players, it is a life far from the familiar in Gary, Indiana or the South Bronx. For Haskins, it is the risk of doing something that was considered unheard of back then. He faced the wrath of his town and the school's backers by putting together a team comprised of mostly African American players in a time when maybe one or two "negroes" or "coloreds" on a team were acceptable, but certainly never more than that and certainly never in a starting position.

What follows in the next couple of hours is a remarkable story that will satisfy anyone who wants to see basketball action (even I found myself practically rising from my seat in excitement at the action, and, believe me, that is saying something). But Glory Road is so much more. It shows the evolution of an era, in all its ugliness and its' beauty. We see the struggles of the black players to deal with the inherent racism they face daily, we see the difficulties of their white teammates to overcome their own racist backgrounds and their jealousies at what they perceive as "preferential" treatment by the coach who wants to protect his players. We see the black players have to adjust to a strict coach who wants them to play "fundamental" basketball and not "street" basketball, seemingly forced to cow-down once again to a white authority figure without question, and we see a coach who has to learn that he needs to respect and listen to his players and learn from them as well as teach them about the art of the game if they are to share a trust. We see the effects of Texas Western's accomplishments in how the team (and African American players in general) are seen in the eyes of the media and the fans of the game, and we see how families, both black and white, are affected within this "basketball family." The cast overall displays great human traits as they persevere throughout the school year and basketball season. They are courageous and even heroic in meeting a great many challenges. They sacrifice to achieve their goals, and yet they manage to retain their dignity at all times.

Some great standouts among the cast of players include Mehcad Brooks as Harry Flournoy, Jr., Samuel Jones III (who used to be just plain old Sam Jones when he was on Smallville) as Willie Worsley, Al Shearer as Nevil Shed, and Damaine Radcliff as Willie Caber. Also excellent are Elizabeth Omilami as Harry's mother and Valeri Ross as Nevil's mother. These two ladies manage in just a few small scenes to convey a lifetime of love, tears, hopes and sadness about their children's lives, both previous to and now on the cusp of fame, but if I was going to name a remarkably understated performance overall, I'd have to give it to Red West,70, who has been
around Hollywood since the 1950s and is best known as a character actor and a friend and confidante of Elvis Presley (not that this has anything to do with his role in the movie). Red plays the assistant coach to Haskins, and it is through his weathered face, and his drooping, haggard eyes that we see the ultimate sadness that reflects the wisdom of his age and an understanding that the hate raged at these young men simply because of the color of their skin is so unnecessary and so terribly, terribly inexcusable.

Naturally, the historical significance of this story has played out in the following four decades and it is almost impossible to imagine that such a time of ignorance existed, though it would also be naive to think such racist attitudes have disappeared either. That is one of the greatest benefits of
Glory Road. It is a reminder of a horrible time past and also a cautionary tale of what we could revert to if not for the diligent work of people like Don Haskins and the 1966 NCAA National Basketball Champions from little old Texas Western Tech. It seems only fitting that this tribute to them should be released over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.

No comments: