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Big Screen Basketball: the best basketball comedy movies of all time

An absolutely serious examination of the best in basketball funnies.

Clippers vs Warriors on March 8, 2022 Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

There was a time in this great land that basketball movies were plentiful. Dramatic underdogs, streetball thrills, family stories or sports comedy, the collection of basketball cinema had no shortage. While there has been a drop-off from the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s there’s been a rekindled interest thanks to recent hits like Air and Hustle.

While we wait for Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to return to the floor it’s time to dip back into the basketball movie vault to find the best or, in some cases, catastrophically ridiculous. Today we’re dicing into the best in Basketball Comedy! Don’t forget to vote.

*Spoiler Alert for everything below.

Honorable Mentions

We had five, but this piece is already too long, so here are your honorables: Air Bud (1997), Baseketball (1998), The Sixth Man (1997), Space Jam (1996), Thunderstruck (2012).

Teen Wolf (1985)

Seen it before? No

Tagline: He always wanted to be special…be he never expected this!

Synopsis: Scott Howard, an ordinary student on his high school’s basketball team, discovers that his family has an unusual pedigree.

Review: The movie is unhinged. At every turn, one scene after another, this Michael J. Fox led film is chaotic, confusing, and so bizarre it’s funny.

Is the basketball believable? In a world where an entire high school befriends a teenage werewolf, yes the basketball is believable. The transformation from a profusely sweaty human Howard into a werewolf Harlem Globetrotter may beg believing, but what a ride! Every other player on the floor looks 30 years old. You can tell we were watching 80’s basketball because the villain in the story, Mick, is full on shoving Howard mid-air and isn’t ejected.

Best Character: Werewolf Scott Howard? I really don’t know. This movie is wild.

Best Scene: Nothing was more unhinged than when little Scott Howard goes to buy a keg and terrifies the clerk into giving it to him by deploying what can only be described as neon demon eyes and Danny’s voice from The Shining.

Best Basketball Moment: The Beavers go on an inconceivable run in their final matchup with the Dragons, led by a werwolf-less Howard. Time has expired and Howard has to drain two free throws to win. Mick (somehow not forced to return to his bench) is completely doused in sweat that only a 30 year old man could produce trying to keep up with high schoolers, and plants himself on the baseline (?) to watch on as Scott hits them both. Cue the 80’s music. Credits.

Is this movie good? No it is not. 1.5 out of 5 Basketballs.

Semi-Pro (2008)

Seen it before? No

Tagline: Putting the funk into the dunk.

Synopsis: Jackie Moon, the owner-coach-player of the American Basketball Association’s Flint Michigan Tropics, rallies his teammates to make their NBA dreams come true.

Review: On paper, putting Will Ferrell inside 1970’s basketball sounds like a no brainer. While there are a handful of sequences that are worth a laugh, most of this feels like a basketball losing air.

It has a collection of Ferrell ensemble regulars and features a legitimately solid performance from Andre 3000. But the whole thing is weighed down. The best moments in the movie come from Will Arnett’s Lou Redwood and Andy Daly’s Dick Pepperfield, playing the sports movie staple play-by-play broadcast duo. You’d think given his experience in one iconic basketball movie, that Woody Harrelson as Monix would be a great addition. But his scenes felt like a different movie.

Is the basketball believable? There is, unsurprisingly, very little basketball. We mainly follow Jackie Moon through his barrage of stunts, both on and off the floor. The most believable and funny basketball is the blender.

Best Character: Andy Daly as Dick Pepperfield.

Best Scene: Best scene is early in the movie when Jackie is playing poker with some of his buddies, which devolves into a maniacal round of roulette with Lou Redwood’s gun.

Best Basketball Moment: Best/Saddest basketball moment is the final sequence, when Moxie calls a play called “Puke” which culminates in Moxie following a missed free throw in traffic, but barely gets off the ground. Possibly the least athletic winning play in sports movie history? I can tell you one thing, Luka Doncic would have cooked in this era.

Is this movie good? No it is not. 2.5 out of 5 Basketballs.

Like Mike (2002)

Seen it before? Yes

Tagline: Only real ballers watch this movie.

Synopsis: 13-year-old orphan becomes an NBA superstar after trying on a pair of sneakers with the faded initials “MJ” inside them.

Review: This movie entered the chat because of a short scene stealing moment from 2002 Dirk Nowitzki, flanked by Steve Nash and Michael Finley asking the star, Calvin Cambridge (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss), for his autograph. We also get a quick hit of Jason Kidd trash talk. But this movie had a lot more going on in a rewatch.

Let’s see, we have: Jesse Plemmons as group home bully; an adult ensemble featuring Morris Chestnut, Anne Meara, Robert Forster, Crispin Glover, and Eugene Levy; NBA on NBC theme; all the OG Sportscenter greats; and a whole crew of NBA stars from the turn of the century. The supernatural sports orphan storyline, something previously trod, is very strange and actually menacing. But the movie is carried by Moss and Chestnut’s tandem.

Is the basketball believable? In that a sub-five foot teenager dominates the NBA, this movie does have what feels like real basketball, thanks to this movie being co-produced by the NBA itself.

Best Character: Young Shad Moss as Calvin is the star.

Best Scene: Calvin playing one-on-one with Tracy at half time where, among his new supernatural abilities, Calvin foreshadows the future of the league with a pretty slick stepback three.

Best Basketball Moment: How did they convince Vince Carter to get cooked like that, especially after Calvin lost his powers?

Is this movie good? It’s possible, even with the strange orphan storyline, this is the best basketball kids movie? 3 out of 5 Basketballs.

White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

Seen it before? Yes

Tagline: It ain’t easy being this good.

Synopsis: Sidney Deane and Billy Hoyle, basketball hustlers, join forces to double their chances of winning money playing street ball.

Review: The 90’s are alive! The action and trash talk of games around Venice Beach is fun, but the chemistry between Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) and Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) makes this movie come alive. It’s interesting watching this in a 2023 lens and taking in how plainly race comes into play throughout the movie, without it being a primary plot device.

This is written and directed by Ron Shelton, who helmed a handful of sports movies (Bull Durham among them). You can tell he has an eye for it, as all of the basketball action is clear and believable throughout – something that is usually the downfall in basketball movies.

Is the basketball believable? It felt a little more believable in the mid 90’s. Sidney’s handles are weak, and some of the acrobatic drives that Sidney, Billy, and a few others pull off would get bodied in real pick-up. But compared to most basketball in movies it holds up, mainly because Shelton shoots it so well and makes the energy on the court feel real.

Best Character: It’s hard to deny the magnetism of Snipes’ Sidney Deane. In much of the non-basketball plot he plays passenger to Harrelson, but you can’t take your eyes off Sidney.

Best Scene: In my mind the night Hoyle tries to dunk is much longer and fulfilling, but in a rewatch it felt almost inconsequential. Instead it’s hard to pass up the shooting contest early in the movie, when Hoyle hustles Deane. It establishes everything you need to know about both of them.

Best Basketball Moment: Gotta be the final game, when Sidney lobs to Billy for the game-winning dunk.

Is this movie good? Yes. 4 out of 5 Basketballs.

Poll

Which basketball comedy is best?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Teen Wolf
    (3 votes)
  • 32%
    Semi-Pro
    (27 votes)
  • 4%
    Like Mike
    (4 votes)
  • 50%
    White Men Can’t Jump
    (42 votes)
  • 8%
    Other
    (7 votes)
83 votes total Vote Now