In my junior year of high school, a basketball teammate made me a bootleg VHS of Love & Basketball. The picture wasn’t perfect: the sound was off and there was a part in the movie — right before the love scene that is marked by Maxwell’s remake of “This Woman’s Work” — that always skipped. And yet, I watched that movie over and over until the ribbon in the tape was too thin to run through the reels.
I learned the lyrics to “Lyte as Rock” and made myself rap it perfectly before leaving the house to head out to a game. I listened to the soundtrack on the whole car ride to the gym. I was OBSESSED with this movie. It has been 15 years since the release of Love & Basketball, and still, what happens then is what happens now — I am in awe, and every molecule of my being wants to be Monica Wright.
I am not alone in my infatuation, and it seems that time has not diminished the movie’s affect. Currently, the movie’s Facebook page has 6,630,116 likes, and fans from all over bombard the page with nostalgic posts. There are a couple reasons why this movie has had such a lasting impression: it’s a real portrayal of the game and the movie’s female perspective.
Love & Basketball holds a unique spot on the list of the top 10 highest-grossing basketball films. Unlike the other movies, it isn’t a comedy. It isn’t a farce that has basketball as a prop. In Love & Basketball, the sport is a vehicle that drives a coming-of-age story.
If we’re talking about merely authenticity, Love & Basketball should be at the top of the list. It shows what it’s like to be a real basketball player. In Monica’s freshman year at USC, she learns what it’s like to go from the best player on the court to fighting for playing time. During a scene where the women’s basketball team is scrimmaging, Monica plays on the “B” squad. She steals the ball from Sidra, the upperclassman who holds the coveted starting guard spot. Monica drives the other way and instead of going for the guaranteed layup, she pulls up behind the three-point line for an open shot. It’s an ultimate display of her boldness, her having the confidence to sink the three. She does. The balls swishes through the net. And for good measure, she holds her shooting pose, something we see a young Monica do at the beginning of the movie. We love her for her bravado. But her coach is not pleased.
COACH DAVIS: While you’re so busy posing, your man just scored! (beat) Show me again.
COACH DAVIS: You love to pose so much, let’s see it again. Monica holds up her arm like she just shot the ball.
Snickers from her teammates.
COACH DAVIS (cont’d): I want you to stand like that for the rest of practice.
COACH DAVIS: I want you to stand like that until you’re sick of it because I don’t ever want to see it again, you hear me?
Here is what all basketball players, male or female, can relate to — the highest of highs tempered by the lowest of lows. We see Monica, who loves basketball more than anything, struggle to find her place on the team.
The actual basketball scenes in Love & Basketball show the complex nature of the game and its players. We see Monica block a shot and get into an opponent’s face. We see Quincy McCall, Monica’s love interest and counterpart, falling to the floor and clutching his knee after an errant fast break. There are no cheesy down-to-the-wire buzzer beaters. No slow-motion sequences (ahem, White Men Can’t Jump) that create the illusion that the actors are ballers. No cartoons (Space Jam) that drive the narrative. No weird special effects (Like Mike and Air Bud) that have Lil’ Bow Wow or a golden retriever flying through the air to dunk the ball or make a layup.
Coach Carter and Glory Road, other films on the top 10 list, are more serious and the playing scenes are more believable. But, the action in those movies are too choreographed, too telegraphed to feel authentic. That’s where these movies fail. It’s hard to recreate the drama of sports. Love & Basketball doesn’t try to do that. The drama is driven by the characters, not the game.
It’s no coincidence that most of the fans of this movie are women. The movie resonates with young girls everywhere for the same reason it resonates with me. Every female baller sees herself in Monica. She is gritty, unapologetic and above all else, passionate about the game. Even if we aren’t like her, we want to be her. And it isn’t just about basketball. The girl underneath the jersey and baggy shorts is still just a girl: insecure at times, unsure of where her place is, afraid to show her true emotions. The dichotomy of Monica’s character is what makes her real, and it’s what makes Love & Basketball much more than just a sports movie.
Monica doesn’t accept traditional gender roles. She comes off brash at times, but mostly, it’s inspiring. Set against a conservative housewife as a mom, Monica pushes back against what society deems lady-like. She challenges the status quo. She’s not afraid to act and play like a guy. She doesn’t just embrace her tomboyish-ness, she flourishes in it.
But, here is the beauty of this movie: Monica is not only a basketball player. She’s a person. She has doubts and insecurities. Monica continues her basketball career overseas after college. She’s living her dream, and yet, something is missing. Quincy’s not there, and his absence makes the game sizzle. It’s not what it used to be. Monica decides to quit the game and come back home. She finds Quincy is home, too. He’s back keeping his mom company while he rehabs his knee. He’s also biding his time before his wedding. Throughout it all, Monica struggles with whether or not she should tell him that she’s still in love with him.
MONICA: It’s a trip, you know? When you’re a kid, you see the life you want, and it never crosses your mind that it’s not gonna turn out that way.
In the end, Monica gets the love of her life and the game she loves. The movie ends on a shot of her starting a game in the Staples Center for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. Her jersey dons the name Wright-McCall and Quincy is in the stands with a little girl in his lap, urging the baby to cheer for mommy. Since Love and Basketball came out in 2000, there has been very few films where the main message has been that a girl can have it all if she is passionate and determined enough.
Fifteen years have gone by since I first watched Love and Basketball. Another 15 could go by and I would still watch it with the same wonderment. Watching Love and Basketball is like riding my favorite roller coaster. I know every twist and turn, every loop and drop. And still, my stomach drops, my heart beats fast. It’s a thrill that never gets old. It will always remind me of that young girl at the moment she saw everything she ever wanted up on a movie screen.
MAGGIE THACH | @magsthach
Sports. Writing. I’ve never been a natural at either, but I love them both. I’m happy to be joining these two loves at Dat Winning. I received my MFA in creative nonfiction in 2013 and I play in an over-30 women’s basketball league. We are currently 9-3.
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