Toon Talk: Glory Road
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by Kirby C. Holt
In the wake of the success of Remember the Titans, like an assembly line Disney has turned out an increasingly redundant series of fact-based, inspirational sports movies. The formula has quickly become rote: an idealistic coach is assigned the task of turning a ragtag group of athletes, brimming with the possibilities of unrealized greatness, into the winners only he can see beneath their undisciplined facades. He leans on them, hard, whipping his charges into a finely tuned machine of a team (at the expense of his long-suffering - yet always supportive - wife), building up to the inevitable climactic game of underdog versus champion, a David versus Goliath. By this point in the scenario, the outcome is not just obvious, but preordained; after all, these stories are based upon real events, and, in the movies, there is nothing uplifting about a team that lost.
All that is different in these films are the details; in the case of the latest, Glory Road, we are introduced to Coach Dan Haskins, who unknowingly changed the face of basketball when he decided to play an all-African-American opening lineup at the 1966 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) Championships. This country was on the brink of the Civil Rights movement in that era, so we are witness to that tumultuous time in American history through the eyes of this scrappy b-ball team from an insignificant college town. However, despite the racial themes cast over the film, a pair of britches that ultimately proves too big for these filmmakers to fill, Glory Road remains steeped in the genre's conventions and cliches.
Don Haskins, played by Josh Lucas (whose pale-blue eyes still pierce despite his added girth), was a small town family man and high school girls basketball coach who gets the chance to fulfill his own hoop dreams when he is hired by Texas Western University to coach their basketball team, the Miners. Unimpressed with the talent on hand, he sets out to recruit a decent team, inadvertently stumbling upon a heretofore-untapped resource: the gritty gamesmanship of "coloredâ€? street players. When he returns with six black scholarship students (including Antwone Fisher's Derek Luke, Desperate Housewives' Mehcad Brooks and Smallville's Sam Jones III), eyebrows are raised amongst his school superiors and his mostly Caucasian team. (Remember, this was long before such racial boundary-crossing hardwood heroes as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan; this was a time when basketball was largely considered a "white sportâ€? - even the NBA (National Basketball Association) had only one black superstar at the time, Wilt Chamberlain.)
Owing to the relatively small stature of their school, Haskins was allowed to continue with what would become known as, in kinder circles, his "experimentâ€?. Through his determined leadership, Haskins' multi-racial Miners developed into an unlikely force to be reckoned with; in their incredible debut season they would win 27 out of 28 games, a record shared that year by the team they would eventually face in the Final Four, the all-white University of Kentucky Wildcats, lead by college coaching legend Adolph "The Baronâ€? Rupp (underneath all that make-up is Jon Voight, as unrecognizable as he was as Howard Cosell in Ali).