The basketball scenes in "Glory Road" feel more like jazzed up deodorant commercials than climactic hoop.
If one delves into history just a little, one discovers a few crucial facts that seem to explain why the basketball scenes in "Glory Road" feel more like jazzed up deodorant commercials than climactic hoop.
First of all, Texas Western, which right after the events of this film in 1966 became The University of Texas El Paso, so as to give people even more reason for not attending, led Kentucky for most of the game and won 72-65. Both teams finished the season at 23-1 and while Kentucky was ranked #1, Texas Western finished the season as the #3 team. The Texas Western players were significantly larger than the Kentucky players. In fact, the group of five who started for Kentucky was known as "Rupp's Runts," the "Rupp" referring to coach Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight), who really liked white kids and alliteration.
The thing that made this upset significant was that Coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) started five black players for the first time in an NCAA title game. However, what the film fails to mention is that when Haskins became the coach at Texas Western, he inherited three black players on his squad, and wasn't quite the groundbreaker director James Gartner wishes he was. Like so many Hollywood films, "Glory Road" thinks it's more dramatic if bringing black players to Texas Western was actually Don Haskins' idea and that, gosh, he practically invented civil rights in Texas.
The reason the story isn't told the way it happened is because that's not how Hollywood works. This is also the reason race relations are never dealt with in any complex way in these films. Race conflicts are spooned up in easy-to-understand snack size bites. Thus, when one of the team members, Nevil Shed (Al Shearer), gets beaten up in a men's bathroom when the team is on the road, it represents almost all the movie's hatred, and those two bad white guys seem to exist in their own little world of white-hot hate. There's also a Texas Western booster who's a little uncomfortable with Haskins's roster, but quickly turns over a new leaf once the team starts winning.
In reality, Haskins received death threats for what he did, which probably paled in comparison to what the players went through. Here's the thing though: Hollywood assumes nobody wants to hear it; nobody wants to spend their $9 and 90 minutes steeping in the ugly details of racism. What people want is for the black players and the white players to bond (which they do) and for the team to come together like Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg in a hot tub during the wrap party for "Made in America."
If you see the sign for "Glory Road," keep on driving.
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