Glory Road (2006)

The breathtakingly-inspirational true story of a black college basketball team that changed the history of sports, Glory Road is a powerful canvas of ’60’s revolutionism with emotion, tonal diversity, & performances chastizing racism-evils. One of the best sports films. 9.2/10.

Plot Synopsis: After becoming the new coach of the 1965 Texas Miners, Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) decides to build a team based on talent rather than race. The conservative townsfolk balk at the new racially-diverse lineup despite the fact that the team is winning all games. Black players like Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke) & captain Harry Flournoy (Mehcad Brooks) begin to dominate the court, as racism intensifies – jeopardizing the future of basketball.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

A New Era Of Basketball

Pre-1965, Sports Were A White Man’s Game – & Racism Was Everpresent Across A Dark Shadow Of ‘The Land Of The Free/Equal’

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

Lebron James. Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Shaq. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. KD. Allen Iverson. Giannis Antetokoumpo. Magic Johnson. The list goes on of NBA legends of African-American heritage reigning pure dominance [and slam dunks] over the majority of white counterparts. By 2020, 82% of the NBA is black and 70% of the NFL is black according to officials, driving billions of dollars of revenue in what’s easily the most popular entertainment pastime in the U.S.A. Big-ticket sports weren’t always like this, though, with documentations of ‘unwritten rules/quotas’ of one or two token race-differences – on a sea of white male nationalized power. Berated and belittled with everything from questions of their intelligence/character, monkey-comparisons, and neverending racism by a KKK/confederate-flag waving mongrels, black Americans were caged from achieving their destined status – until one coach and team in the 1960’s decided to reverberate civil rights progressiveness and change the face of sports forever. The breathtakingly-inspirational true story of the black college basketball team that changed the history of sports, Glory Road is a powerful canvas of ’60’s revolutionism with emotion, tonalism-diversity, exhilarating action, & strong performances chastizing era racism-evils in the game-of-the-century. One of the best sports films – & greatest basketball film – of all-time.

The Americana Sets & Backdrop

From The Deserts Of El Paso TX To Southern Diners To Packed Stadiums With A Pop Rock/Gospel Score, A Canvas Of ’60’s U.S.A.

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

Glory Road is the preeminent sports feature of this groundbreaking experimentation in racial justice/equality on the basketball court and larger U.S.-culture – but begins with a canvas of apple pie ’60’s Americana as classical as any before it. From Nebraska cornfields to white picket-fences to the deserts of El Paso, TX to ’50’s family diners in the South to Indiana steel mills to a small-town college, gymnasium, the sets are diverse but all coalesce to reverberate the charm and many [beautiful] typographies of our nation from coast-to-coast. The soundtrack is a melting pot all the same: mixing 60’s pop rock, motown/R&B, country fiddle, black choir church gospel, and funk seamlessly – doing so most impressively in its fantastic era montage splicing together old black-and-white clips of its civil rights and Martin Luther King Kr. ‘I Have A Dream’ subject juxtaposed against the vibrational black magic of Stevie Wonder to set the other major thematization right away: social justice reform.

The Times Are A-Changin’

After Establishment Of American Charms, It Reveals The Evils Within – & Efforts For Change: MLK, Civil Rights, War, Feminism

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

The revolutionism of the ’60’s is perhaps the definitive characteristic of the decade. One of the most divisive and chaotic eras of our country’s history, the calm before the storm had ended – and nationwide protests erupted over a vast number of issues from antiwar/peace to civil rights to feminism to political assassinations to the emerging generational gap. Uncle Sam traded in his lawnchair, iced tea, labrador, and ford motorcarriage for a psychadelic tye-dye shirt, blunt, and counterculture peace flag – and the film captures the progressivism and justice of the ’60’s dramatically through its racially-charged screenplay. Don Haskins is recruited to Texas Western to become their men’s college basketball coach – the only problem: he’s given no budget/resources for recruitment of star prospects, a perfectionist hungry for celebration with no way to achieve his lofty ambitions and goals. On a few of his scouting expeditions, he notices black players with huge talent/potential.. being forced to ride the bench or only go in during garbage time – and makes a decision that would shock the nation and reimagine sports entirely.

The Racism & Masculinity Exposition

One Of The Most Striking & Unforgettable Cinematic Portrayals Of The Subject, You Feel The Intensity Of Bigotry Experience

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

Before the film’s events, basketball – like the other sports that vividly defined the hallmarks of American culture; e.g. football – was a white man’s game. And you feel how animalistically they try to hold onto it. The racism exposition of Glory Road is downright frightening – from gang-up diner bathroom mauls piss-dunking heads in a toilet to screaming condiment-humiliation bringing new level to the terminology of hostile away-crowds to botched official calls at the most convenient of cheated times in-games to death-threats hurling hard-R letters to the families’ windows to Negro blood-splattered KKK messages awaiting the team back at their hotel rooms after away games. My goodness, the film is dark and presents unforgettable visualizations of the evils of racism I haven’t since forgotten to-date… and it makes the vast spectrum of emotional diversity GR presents afterwards all the [infinitesimally-more] effective.

A White Man’s Game

Before Texas Western vs. Kentucky’s Game, America’s Holy Grail Of Entertainment: Sports Were A One-Color Exclusion Practice

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

Beyond the pure terror of its racism amongst the most striking in moviemaking, Glory Road manages to pack a kaleidoscope of emotional spectrum just as diverse as its performances. There is A+-humour bringing plenty of [surprisingly-heartfelt] laughs like the mama-coming-to-rain-hell on Fluornoy’s geology class and personal jibber-jabber amongst teammates in practice – our favorite being the ironic racist line: ‘You’re talking like Negros are going to be the future of basketball… Psht, could you imagine that?’. Yes, we can. There is unparalleled action pedigree and visceral, pulse-rattling basketball sequenes [as we’ll address later]. There’s romance in its Bobby Joe-arc, empathy-evocation, despair, heart, intensity, suspense, dramaticism, and most of all: joy and inspiration. Most memorable to me about my experience watching Glory Road was the unbridled joy at the finale scene – when racism loses and progressivism/American dream wins alongside Texas Western. Few times in my cinematic career have I felt such a soaring elation as when that final buzzer went off and the court was stormed as religious iconography score and mesmerizing visuals evoked tears, and that is a testament not only to the screenwriting and sensory teams – but especially the performances to bring such multifaceted and important characters and their arcs to life.

The Man Who Changed Everything

The Patriarch Of The Film, Don Haskins Is A Fascinating Coach – Brought To Life By A Career-Making Performance By Josh Lucas

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

The biggest MVP of performances is the man who breathes life into the architect of the history-changing team: Josh Lucas’ Don Haskins. Lucas steals the show from the opening scene – with a thick-accented southern charm as solace and satiated as comfort-food [he no doubt snacked on gaining 40 lbs. for the role – a celebration-demanding dedication to the character in everything down to looks/realism] juxtaposed with Old Testament God-fury on the basketball court. The discipline with which Lucas gets lost in the underdog characcter is commendable – making for the ultimate coach performance & one just as well-supported by its scripting of old-fashioned American values/heroicism and dedication: moving his entire family into the men’s dorm and taking the job almost-free to secure his dream of coaching NCAA Basketball at the Division I-level. Indeed, the PTSD I experienced – and any athlete will – when he placates troublemakers and tells a team wheezing for dear-life running 100+ suicides in a row they’re ‘going to burn holes in their shoes today’ on drills is enough to evoke nightmares, but is damn good entertainment value. The passion and love DH felt for the game of basketball shines through by Lucas’ surgical hand, as well as his defensive fundamental-based philosophy and meritocratic willingness to throw away his career and reputation in the pursuit of glory and racial equity.

The Baron Of The Bluegrass

The Supporting Performances Of The Film Are Just As Strong, Led By A Brilliant Jon Voight As The UK ‘Coach-Of-The-Century’

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

The supporting performances are just as phenomenal. The team, of course, had to be just as compelling and accurate as its coach. From Derek Luke’s smooth-talking ladies’ man Bobby-Joe to Mehcad Brooks’ mama’s boy Flournoy to McAuley’s comic-relief buck-toothed Orsten to SJIII’s Black Panther Worseley to the monstrous stature of Schin Kirr’s ‘Big Daddy’ Lattin, the team is magnificently-scripted and strongly-acted – breathing characterization-life into them. Peripheral characters like Emily Deschanel’s torn-but-supportive housewife Mrs. Haskins [of ‘Bones’ fame] and Tatyana M. Ali’s waitress-turned-love-interest Tina [from ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’] add star-power to the canvas – rocketed by epic cameos from NBA legend Pat Riley in the crowd overlooking his younger self on the UK team he played against TXWU and the real Don Haskins himself as a gas station attendant filling up the car [both metaphorically and physically] of Josh Lucas’ portrayal of him in-character. All of these pale in comparison, though, to Jon Voight’s performance as the coach-of-the-century: Adolph Rupp. One of the most deliciously-hatable performances, Voight gets the nuance, grandeur, intensity, and subtlety of racism The Baron Of The Bluegrass had over his reign at the University Of Kentucky – one of the greatest basketball programs of all-time to date he led to Basketball Hall-Of-Fame records. Voight rattles off burning demands of his team and captures the egocentrism of the icon brilliantly – yelling ‘we know how to play this game better than anyone living’ and ‘we don’t teach scared at The University Of Kentucky’. The agonizing defeat he suffers realizes that even a Da Vinci of the hardwood still had one more lesson-to-learn: diversity and racial justice – of which stuck with him, later recruiting the first black player in the history of UK Athletics since 1865. Talk about character development.

The Basketball

The Greatest Portrayal Of Basketball In Movies, Thanks To Authentic Exposition, Quick-Cuts, & Cinematographical Diversity

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

Finally, the basketball. Glory Road is the best basketball film of all-time, also because of all of the other cinematic aspects we just analyzed & expositioned.. but foremost because of how it captures the thrills, magic, and larger meaning of its sport. The quick-cuts, cinematographical diversity, and crisp shot compositions [much like our favorite shot above: which has also made it into our 250 favorite movie shots ever ranking] capture the dynamic energy and power of the sport of basketball. The actors and stunt-doubles pack flashiness and skill for a game you could’ve actually believed was a true college basketball championship – from slam dunks to behind-the-back passes to three-point fadeaway swishes in the David vs. Goliath finale of Texas Western vs. Kentucky [one of the greatest upsets in sports history]. The realism and authenticity of the portrayal is off-the-charts – painting the experience of teamwork and a long season all the way to the minutia of bus-ride music/auxcord fights [as I can personally attest to having played at the AAU, Varsity in HS, and IM college basketball levels with multiple teammates who now play professionally overseas and in the NBA]. Finally, the film cinematically translates the prismatic metaphorization of sports – how they reverberate life lessons like teamwork, respect, and winning-and-losing; here about so much more than a game, but the acceptance and fate of race in the U.S.A.


The Slightest Of Formulaism, But Few Ways To Make A Sports Film Without Underdog Flair – & It Often Subverts Expectations

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

Flaws in Glory Road have been wildly-overblown. Newsflash: sports films are formulaic – there are only a few real ways to pen a script of underdog sports storytelling. Small Town -> Team A Bad -> Work Hard -> Win -> Lose/Emotional Blow -> Get Stronger -> Win Big Game -> Team A Good. This is even harder to circumvent/subvert when based on a true story, and a purely-ludicrous reason to downgrade the film. Not only are franchises like MCU praised for formulaism and sticking to a script/tonal balance [when there’s no excuse since it’s not even a good formula and there are billions of storytelling possibilities in genres like comic book films], but Glory Road often shakes-up the rules instead of playing by-the-books to them. Creation of internal division to not pass the ball to other colors on the same team out of recompense, perfect season slipping away by this strife from the internalizations of the trench warfare, final championship games wherein half the team doesn’t play, and a game that goes into double-overtime off technical fouls and out-of-bounds steps are plot-twists I can’t remember in the genre – and challenge others to find. Regardless, the even remote presence of sports-formulaism is eviscerated by the brilliance of its racial, action-packed, emotional, inspirational, diversely-shot/locationed, and incredibly-acted performance – an El Paso TX-tale that rises above its genre like it rose above the Baron Of The Bluegrass.


The Greatest Basketball Film Of All-Time

The Breathtakingly Inspirational True Story Of The Black College Team That Changed The Face Of Sports, A Powerful Canvas Of ’60’s Revolutionism; One Of Best Sport Films

Photograph Courtesy Of: Walt Disney Studios x Buena Vista Pictures

Overall, Glory Road is the best basketball film – and one of the greatest sports films – of all-time. The culmination of the sports experience, it epitomizes everything the genre should have – while serving in a larger context of social justice, American heroicism, and the most important game ever played. The true story of a girls’ high school basketball coach being recruited to El Paso, TX and taking the rejects of elite programs like Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky on the basis of black complexion, the film is the underdog story to end all underdog stories – easily the biggest upset in NCAA history and one that changed the face of American sports. The performances are powerful by this epic cast: from Derek Luke’s smooth-talking ladies’ man Bobby Joe to Mehcad Brooks’ mama’s boy Flournoy to McAuley’s comic relief Orsten to SJIII’s Black Panther WW – and that’s not even including the mythical rivalry of two of the greatest coaches in basketball history, brought to life by career performances by Josh Lucas as Don Haskins and Jon Voight’s baron-of-the-bluegrass Adolph Rupp. Not only is the racism-exposition some of the most striking, complete, and memorable in the most horrific of ways chastizing era-evils, but the basketball is easily the most dynamic, diversely-cinematographed, well-scored, and thrillingly-captured of its genre. This is why basketball is my favorite sport of all-time – and, having played on the same AAU, Varsity, and college teams as now-NBA players, personally-certify its breathtaking authenticity in every aspect. Glory Road also wildly-succeeds as an exemplar of moviemaking emotion – one of the most diverse projects of its genre, packing the humour, heart, sadness, horror, depth of race/masculinity thematization, and unbridled joy & triumph I can’t remember feeling all in the same movie for years. . The breathtakingly-inspirational true story of the black college basketball team that changed the history of sports, Glory Road is a powerful canvas of ’60’s revolutionism with emotion, tonalism-diversity, exhilarating action, & strong performances chastizing era racism-evils in the game-of-the-century. One of the best sports films – & greatest basketball film – of all-time.

Official CLC Score: 9.2/10