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April 1, 2010

UnCensered: Hollywood Hasn't Done Us Justice...Yet

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Censer Archive

Thumbs up for Stifler, but can someone please teach the guy how to face dodge?

 

Moving into a new apartment a couple of weeks ago, I found a box of DVDs I hadn’t opened since graduating from college.Most of the movies were outdated odes to the late ‘90s, but I couldn’t help but rewatch Spike Lee’s "He Got Game."

The 1998 flick isn’t perfect. The plot -- that the prison sentence of Jake Shuttlesworth’s (Denzel Washington) will be commuted if he can convince his estranged son and the country’s top basketball recruit Jesus Shuttlesworth (NBA star Ray Allen) to attend the governor’s alma mater -- is pretty far-fetched. (Imagine Maryland’s governor Martin O’Malley trying to coerce Steele Stanwick to commit to the Terps).

It also runs too long, and I can’t for the life of me figure out the significance of Milla Jovovich repeatedly showing up at some seedy Coney Island hotel, doing her best to put some teeth in Julia Roberts’ "Pretty Woman" routine.

But I still love it. And the reasons I can watch it over and over go beyond enjoying hoops or Ray Allen’s jumper or hearing Denzel talk about Earl Monroe’s game. Simply put, I’m a sucker for movies that contextualize sport as something bigger than a game.

"He Got Game" doesn’t simplify the sport to its bare essentials (in this case, a hardwood floor and a leather ball) and use it as a conduit to discuss urban plight or the difficulties of being a young, talented basketball player today. Instead, Lee makes clear that the game of basketball is sacred.  The pick-up scenes are often accompanied by classical music, and Allen at one point refers to the game as “poetry in motion.”

Most revealing, Allen’s “coming of age” moment occurs on the court, where in a one-on-one game, he finally beats his dad and establishes his independence.

Ultimately, the movie is meant to show that basketball, in all its poetic glory, represents something special enough that it can turn boys into men and bond sons with fathers. The game is meant to be honored, respected, explored and certainly not understated.

But unlike basketball, for which "He Got Game" is emblematic of other movies and documentaries ("Hoop Dreams" and "Hoosiers," for example) that have infiltrated the mainstream and given the sport nuance and intellectual weight, lacrosse in Hollywood productions (which does not include indie hit "Keeper of the Kohn," an absolute gem of a movie) has been glossed over and presented in more superficial terms.

In "American Pie," I was rooting for Stifler and Oz to “crush those losers” as much as the next guy. But let’s be honest about why lacrosse played a part in the movie. It wasn’t meant to celebrate staying topside or the close-knit lacrosse community, or even discuss what the game meant to the Iroquois. It was meant to symbolize a “cool” and “new” sport for an affluent generation.

The same thing can be said for "Wild Things," in which the playing of lacrosse (along with sailing) at the beginning is meant to illustrate that Denise Richards and Neve Campbell’s high school isn’t for the little sisters of the poor.

I don’t believe such movies that paint the sport with a bit of broad stroke are bad or damaging for the sport. Exposure is pretty much always good.

But I do think these more shallow renderings of lacrosse have not been illustrative to the game’s profound effect on my life. Indeed, the sport helped get me into a good school, introduced me to most of my closest friends, and gave me my first opportunity to write and break into the journalism industry.

And my story pales in comparison to Kugluktuk Grizzlies.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable then to hope for a lacrosse movie that enters the mainstream -- perhaps "Toe to Toe" or "Crooked Arrows" will do it -- can give our sport the depth it deserves.

Or at least teaches Stifler how to really face dodge.

Odds and Odds

• This article started as an April Fools’ column in which I was going to pronounce that US Lacrosse had designated Stifler and Oz to tour the country teaching fundamentals. But alas, I started writing it and became more serious and self-righteous. Anyway, Happy April Fools’ Day!

• I’ve been following the Langley lacrosse team and helping to produce webisodes about their season for the Washington Post. Clearly, the name was not a creative breakthrough (the series is called The Season) but if you’re interested, here is the link.


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