NBA Finals: Celebrate with 17 of the Best Basketball Films

2 minute read

Over the past few decades, basketball films have become more than just the stereotypical feel-good sports movie—they now include almost every genre of cinema, and can just as easily bring you to tears as get you cheering on your feet. Real life drama unfolds almost nightly with the NBA Finals, and superstars such as Draymond Green and LeBron James are fueling the ever-changing story line. Meanwhile, fictional characters like Gene Hackman as Norman Dale in Hoosiers and Denzel Washington as Jake Shuttlesworth in He Got Game have already set the tone for what constitutes a basketball hero or villain.

Like many sports films, like Rocky and Rudy, basketball movies often focus on the challenges of an individual overcoming personal adversity. But the background of every great basketball movie is dominated by themes of teamwork, strength in numbers and selflessness. Consider Hackman’s famous quote from Hoosiers: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.”

The ’90s were an especially popular time for basketball movies. Hoop Dreams, which is perhaps the best-known basketball documentary, premiered at Sundance in 1994. Originally produced for PBS and intended to be a 30-minute short, it follows Arthur Agee and Williams Gates, who are two poor African-American high schoolers in Chicago who chase their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. While spotlighting basketball, the film highlights the issues of education and race. A truly impressive accomplishment in documentary, this 171 minute movie was cut from approximately five years of filming. Hoop Dreams grossed over $11 million and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

In 1996, two years after Hoop Dreams‘ premiere, Space Jam starring Michael Jordan and Bill Murray opened in the No. 1 spot in the United States and became the highest-grossing basketball film of all time, earning over $230 million. The still-yet-officially-titled Space Jam 2 has recently made headlines, and is reportedly set to star LeBron James and directed by Justin Lin, whose credits include Fast & Furious 6 and Star Trek Beyond.

The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, 1979
The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, 1979Warner Bros.
Hoosiers, 1986
Hoosiers, 1986Orion Pictures
White Men Can't Jump, 1992
White Men Can't Jump, 199220th Century Fox
Blue Chips, 1994
Blue Chips, 1994Paramount Pictures
Above the Rim, 1994
Above the Rim, 1994New Line Cinema
Hoop Dreams, 1994
Hoop Dreams, 1994Fine Line Features
The Air Up There, 1994
The Air Up There, 1994Buena Vista Pictures
The Basketball Diaries, 1995
The Basketball Diaries, 1995New Line Cinema
Space Jam, 1996
Space Jam, 1996Warner Bros.
He Got Game, 1998
He Got Game, 1998Buena Vista Pictures
Passing Glory, 1999
Passing Glory, 1999TNT
Love & Basketball, 2000
Love & Basketball, 2000Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Like Mike, 2002
Like Mike, 200220th Century Fox
Coach Carter, 2005
Coach Carter, 2005Paramount Pictures
Glory Road, 2006
Glory Road, 2006Walt Disney Pictures
Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, 2010
Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, 2010Nathaniel S. Butler—Getty Images
Benji, 2012
Benji, 2012Ed Wager, Jr.—Getty Images

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at