Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 at 10:18 am  |  26 responses

Still Got Game

We reminisce as the classic hoop flick He Got Game turns 15.

by Thomas Golianopoulos / @Golianopoulos

One day during the casting for He Got Game, Ray Allen, Travis Best and Rick Fox auditioned for director Spike Lee. Allen and Best were battling it out for the lead role in the film, Jesus Shuttlesworth; Fox, meanwhile, read for Chick Deagan, a cocky college star. The scene went really well. Suddenly, the room filled with applause. “Spike’s not clapping and the casting director isn’t clapping,” Fox says. “The clapping is coming from the closet. Denzel Washington then sticks his head out of the closet like, ‘That was really good.’ I’ll never forget thinking, ‘That’s Denzel Washington. Shit.’”

Spike Lee’s He Got Game arrived in theaters on May 1, 1998. It grossed only $21 million at the box office but remains one of the most beloved hoop movies of all time. Profound and entertaining, He Got Game is not your average sports film. Yes, there’s a “big game” during the third act, but like most Spike Lee joints, it explores grander themes—race, capitalism, college athletics, the prison industrial complex and fathers and sons.

The plot is a bit preposterous: A man imprisoned (Denzel Washington) for murdering his wife is given a week of freedom to convince his son (Ray Allen), the top high school player in the country, to sign with the governor’s alma mater. In return, he’s promised a reduced sentence. Yet it works. Lee tells the story from different vantage points, illustrating how everyone in Jesus’ world—the opportunistic uncle, the neighborhood tough, the slick-talking agent, the high school coach, the best friend, the girlfriend, the sister and especially the father—are affected by his decision on where he should go to college.

“I don’t think there was one aspect that wasn’t true,” Allen says. “If you ask any athlete about their stories, a lot of them would say it was like that when they got recruited to college….Your uncle buying a car and saying he co-signed it for you. People take liberties at your expense because they know you’re about to come into a lot of money.”

Of course, there’s also a lot of basketball in the film. And for those scenes, Lee wanted a real New York City playground vibe. Besides Allen, he hired other pros (Best, John Wallace and Walter McCarty), put them on the court and just rolled the cameras. He also wanted the cast to build camaraderie. Before filming, he had Washington, Allen and Hill Harper, who portrayed Allen’s best friend, play a game of knockout. They made a small wager on the outcome. “Obviously, Ray didn’t lose,” Harper says. “And I didn’t lose. Denzel took the L on that one. To this day, Denzel still owes me and Ray dinner.”

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  • http://twitter.com/stepfdelaghetto Stepfan Raiford

    15-yr Anniversary of #HeGotGame, but I can’t get this on blu-ray!!!?

  • ChosenOne

    Kobe Bryant turned down the role of Jesus Shuttlesworth. True story.

  • Hussman_25

    Always wondered if a sequel was ever considered… If no, then maybe a spike produced commercial w/ Jesus & Jake once Ray calls it quits for all the fans on this movie. Would be nice to “see” an older Jake & his sister, aunt, uncle & cousin enjoying Jesus playing an NBA game at least once…

  • smith, blocked, smith, stopped

    no ! starbury did !

  • LLC#12

    “The plot is a bit preposterous” understatement, still a great film though. Never gets old.

  • ChosenOne

    Yes, Marbury also turned the role down. But the first baller Spike went to for the lead role was Kobe. Google it if you must. Spike has said it in a few interviews in the past I think as well…

  • ChosenOne

    Some legend has posted the whole movie on YouTube. You can watch the whole thing on there as you please. Every now and again I watch a select few scenes. Especially that 1-on-1 scene with Denzel and Ray. Spine-chilling to say the least…

  • http://twitter.com/stepfdelaghetto Stepfan Raiford

    Link me please.

  • Ismael

    Judas Shuttlesworth!!!!

  • Rockwell

    Loved the opening montage that showed different ballers hooping in everywhere from grimy city parks to barnyard hoops. Really cut to the soul of the game.

  • ChosenOne
  • airs

    whoa whoa whoa…whoa
    the only preposterous part of the movie was when denzel threw that ball over the prison gates and it somehow fell out of the rafters of the gym ray was playing on.
    and rays overalls.

  • LakeShow

    Love this flick. Probably my favorite basketball movie. Mostly because it’s not just about basketball. Basketball Diaries is #2. That flick is intense.

  • LakeShow

    Pic # 5 is incredible.
    “Wow, those are some amazing Jean overalls you have Jesus.”

  • O

    I remember how mad black women were that Denzel had that sex scene with Resident Evil white chick. Where were they when Halle rode Hill Billy Bob while Diddy was doing a bid? either way, dope flick even though Rosario Dawson came off like a gold digging slut.

  • http://twitter.com/stepfdelaghetto Stepfan Raiford

    hahaha thank you

  • http://twitter.com/MisterBucketz Mitya Ya

    That ish gives me goosebumps EVERY SINGLE TIME. And that’s about 20 times and counting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Junior-Taylor/100003121138419 Junior Taylor

    Greatest basketball movie ever made starring the greatest shooter ever and the greatest actor ever.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Love it love it love it. This is the best basketball movie ever, behind only Hoop Dreams… and definitely the best fiction film about basketball. I’d put those two in the top 5 of sports movies in general too.

    The scene where Jesus plays 1-on-1 with his dad gives me goosebumps. And then there’s the scene where we find out he’s named after Earl the Pearl, and not Christ… Classic. Even the scene where Denzel punches that muscular dude in the throat.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    like dis if you cried everytiem.

  • SwaGG_SeaN

    Wow Ray Ray isn’t that tall he’s like 6’4″ but this movie is dope I watch it all the time

  • Ugh

    There would be plenty of usable footage of announcers using the Jesus Shuttlesworth name for Ray, too. Hardly any effort in creating that.

  • Ugh

    They are astounding, aren’t they?

  • LakeShow

    He’s definitely 6’5″…
    And your complaining about an inch either way.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    man idk if Jim Brown is the greatest actor ever, but he’s in the conversation.

  • Zabbah

    Ray’s overall’s still got game. I was rocking the same ones at the mall and chicks were all checking me out, giggling and pointing at me. Come to think of it, so were all the adults and children.