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For Love of the Game.

By Joe Tarr

MARCH 15, 1999:  Once a week, I lace up my hightops and try my luck out on the basketball court. I can't dribble, have no jump shot, frequently miss uncontested lay-ups, and once got nailed in the face when I didn't notice a teammate's quick pass to me. But I can't help myself—I love the game. Since my favorite professional team is the Knicks, there really is only one place I can turn to experience (however vicariously) the thrill of being at the center of a basketball game: the movies.

The HBO docu-drama, Rebound(NR, 1996), is the true story of Earl "The Goat" Manigault, the New York City playground basketball legend who was a heroin addict and never made it to the NBA. With his phenomenal athletic ability, the 6-foot-1 Manigault could snatch quarters off the top of backboards, and "double dunk" a ball in mid-air. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said he was the best he'd ever seen.

With its TV-movie-of-the-week style, Rebound is painful to watch, and never takes you anywhere every other true-life drug-tragedy film hasn't. Still, any fan interested in the mythology of the game will find it irresistible.

Good sports flicks are hard to come by. One of the worst of the bunch is One on One (PG, 1977), starring former pretty-boy Robby Benson. The movie indulges all the clichés of sports as metaphor for life without any subtlety or style. Benson is remarkably unbelievable as a basketball prodigy from the sticks who wins a scholarship to a big-city college. The tyrannical coach doesn't believe Benson has game (imagine that?) and tries to force him off the team. But the love of a bookish tutor, Annette O'Toole, gives Benson the strength to persevere—and guess what happens when the starting guard gets injured in a key game?

The documentary Hoop Dreams (PG-13, 1994) doesn't rely on the melodrama like typical sports flicks—which is one of the reasons it's so good. But there is plenty of tension bubbling on and off the court throughout this 3-hour epic. The movie follows two poor Chicago youngsters—both exceptional basketball talents—from eighth grade into their freshman year of high school—as they pursue their dreams of making it to the NBA. The naive youngsters struggle against their own short-comings, family problems, their tough neighborhood surroundings, injuries, and the pressures of self-serving high school coaches. The movie shows how cruelty, exploitation, and commercialism have become a major part of high school sports, without trivializing its young stars' dreams.

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