(PG) 4 Stars
I didn't have high expectations for the new basketball movie, Glory Road. Even as a lifelong sports fan, I usually hate sports movies because they tend to be among the most predictable, overtly manipulative and clichéd films out there.
And it's especially hard for any surprises to come from a movie based on a true story. I walked into the cinema knowing the team the movie is about, Texas Western, wins the NCAA Tournament in the end.
But it didn't take long for me, or my wife - who doesn't like basketball much - to warm up to Glory Road. Sure, it's a movie that is a little sappy at times, that has a little too much sports-highlight-tear-jerker music. But those drawbacks are quickly forgotten when considering the historical and cultural importance of the story.
Really, this isn't a movie about basketball. It's a movie about race set in the hoops world. It's a movie about a team that proved a bigoted society wrong. Like Jackie Robinson in baseball, Texas Western's success opened the door to African-American players in college basketball.
It's amazing and horrifying to consider that as late as 1966, most top-ranked college teams, like Kentucky - who Texas Western met in the championship game that year - had no black players.
Then, the openly discussed consensus was that black players lacked the mental wherewithal and capacity to handle the pressure required to play the college game. Texas Western, led by white coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas), proved that wrong in convincing fashion.
With a PG rating, this movie makes a perfect tool for parents and for middle school and high school teachers for use in helping teach young people about the terrible recent history of this country.
In some ways, Glory Road shows how far we've come. But the movie's portrayal of the black and white players' struggle to get along touches on a problem that lingers in our society today. It shows we still have room to grow.
If you go see Glory Road, be sure to stick around for the closing credits. As they roll, you'll hear from the real people involved in the story. One of the players interviewed at the end, NBA coach Pat Riley, a star on the Kentucky team in the film, says Texas Western wrote the "emancipation proclamation of 1966." Exactly.