March Madness Basketball Movie Binge: Sweet 16 Edition

Guys watching basketball
Watching movies can thrill just like live basketball, Photo: Jovan Mandic/123RF

Every March Madness fan knows the tournament was set to be in the midst of the Sweet 16 now, so we continue with our brackets of binge-worthy basketball movies so you can still get some great hoops on the small screen there at home. Our opening bracket saw lots of Hamptons support come in behind Killer Bees—not a surprise for the hometown favorites—but there’s no predicting who will emerge victorious here as we present a lineup of 16 films starring real-life basketball stars and a comedic collection for some always-welcome levity.

Real Hoops Stars to Reel

Space Jam
Michael Jordan teaming up with an animated squad including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck for this imagining of how he spent his first NBA retirement, or that this 1996 fantasy became the highest-grossing basketball film ever with more than $230 million at the box office, should not surprise you. What will, however, is the fact that Shawn Bradley and Mugsy Bogues made a team in the film that included future Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing.

He Got Game
Denzel Washington is an incarcerated killer in Spike Lee’s gritty 1998 NYC story, but the surprising star turns out to be soon-to-be NBA All-Star and Olympian Ray Allen, who plays Jesus Shuttlesworth—the nation’s top player, Washington’s son and a pawn in a world exploring college recruiting, father-son relationships and shots at redemption.

Cornbread, Earl and Me
Laurence Fishburne makes his big-screen debut in this 1975 tale of three young men—Wilford Robinson (Fishburne), Earl Carter (Tierre Turner) and Nathaniel “Cornbread” Hamilton (Jamaal Wilkes, the 1975 NBA Rookie of the Year)—and the drama surrounding a local hero, hoops hopes and broken dreams. 

Fast Break
Welcome Back Kotter’s Gabe Kaplan (do you even remember Welcome Back Kotter?)and future NBA Hall of Famer Bernard King team up as unlikely coach and star player at Cadwallader University, where gamblers, hit men and the unbeatable odds come together in this 1979 flick for some easy-going laughs and another hoops role for Laurence Fishburne.

The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh
Julius Erving was one of the players most instrumental in helping the NBA evolve into a high-flying, electrifying league where the game was played above the rim, but it took the idea of creating a team all born under the Pisces sign, and an era-perfect disco soundtrack, to help Dr. J lead the fictional Pittsburgh Pythons to glory in this 1979 cult fave.

Blue Chips
Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal famously teamed up to lead the NBA’s Orlando Magic, to the 1995 NBA Finals, but first they played together for Nick Nolte in this 1994 flick (during the filming of which, legend has it, Shaq told the Magic they should select Hardaway in the upcoming draft). Cameos by Larry Bird, Bob Knight, Rick Pitino, Bobby Hurley, Bob Cousy, Jim Boeheim, Jerry Tarkanian and other college hoops legends make the game of “did you see who that was?” as fun and the on-court action itself.

Like Mike
When orphan Calvin Cambridge (Lil’ Bow Wow) finds a pair of sneakers he thinks belonged to Michael Jordan, a journey begins in this 2002 film that takes him to a roster spot on the fictional Los Angeles Knights, into showdowns with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors, and ultimately to…oh, we can’t give away the ending, can we?

Forget Paris
Okay, so basketball is only a peripheral part of this 1995 rom-com about an NBA referee (Billy Crystal) and his on-again, off-again love story with a woman he meets in Paris (Debra Winger), but getting to see Crystal joking around on-court amid a cast of NBA stars including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Chris Mullen, Tim Hardaway and countless others earns it a spot in this bracket.

Comedy Relief

White Men Can’t Jump
Streetball hustlers Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson team up in this iconic 1992 gem written and directed by Ron Shelton (of Bull Durham fame) that explores race, friendship, what it means to sacrifice self for a teammate, foods that begin with Q and whether or not Woody can actually throw one down.   

Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson and André Benjamin bring the antics and offbeat appeal of the old ABA to life in this 2008 story about Jackie Moon (Ferrell) and his dream of leading his ragtag Flint Tropics into a bright-lights merger with the NBA.

Air Bud
Every dog has his day, but not an entire franchise. Amid the familial drama, the coming-of-age bonding, the inevitable bad guy who must be foiled, a golden retriever hits it big in this 1997 family film by being able to shoot hoops and somehow launches a franchise in which he and his kids—the Air Buddies, naturally—star in sequels in which they play football, soccer, baseball and volleyball, and even travel into space.

Teen Wolf
Everyone knew werewolves were partial to nights with a full moon. That they never wanted to be on the receiving end of a silver bullet. But not until Quogue’s Michael J. Fox got all hairy in this 1985 now-classic did we have any idea they could surf atop delivery trucks and dunk!

Celtic Pride
Daniel Stern and Dan Aykroyd put the fan in fanatic, or vice versa, when they kidnap Utah Jazz star Lewis Scott (Damon Wayans) to help their beloved Boston Celtics bring home the title. In this 1996 Beantown sports love (of a sort) letter. One of the first films Judd Apatow executive produced.

The 6th Man
In one of the most bizarre set-ups for a comedy, this 1997 entry begins with Antoine and Kenny Tyler (Kadeem Hardison and Marlon Wayans) as brothers and best friends and, soon, stars for the University of Washington Huskies, inseparable until Tyler dies from a heart attack (don’t worry, no spoiler there). After which, the two are still pretty much inseparable.

It’s hard to say where the more comedic aspect of this 1996 movie resides: in the notion that  superfan turned rookie coach Edwina “Eddie” Franklin (Whoopie Goldberg) winds up as the head coach of the New York Knicks, or the premise of the Knicks being playoff contenders.

The Air Up There
This is how Kevin Bacon gets within six degrees of separation from everyone—by starring in movies like this 1994 film as a coach who goes to Africa to recruit a potential star played by Charles Gitonga Maina, who was later in an episode of SeaQuest DSV, a show that featured among others the Hamptons’ own Roy Scheider …you get the picture.

Check out our first bracket of March Madness binge-worthy basketball movies here.

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