Sometimes basketball is more than a game.
Before 1966, the sport had never seen an all-black starting lineup. That was until Don Haskins led underdog Texas Western (now the University of Texas-El Paso), a mostly African-American team, to the NCAA national championship.
"There's not that much basketball in 'Glory Road.' It's a much bigger story," says actor Josh Lucas ("Stealth," "Sweet Home Alabama"), who stars as no-nonsense coach Haskins.
The film, the feature debut for director James Gartner (who'd previously done only commercials), tells a little-known story that transcends sports and still resonates.
"With not only the death of Rosa Parks but also the racial issues with what went down in New Orleans, the country's being challenged again right now [by racial questions]," Lucas says.
Derek Luke ("Antwone Fisher"), who plays star guard Bobby Joe Hill, says audiences are increasingly interested in seeing films in the same vein as "Glory," including "Crash," "Syriana," and "Good Night, and Good Luck." "What it says about the culture is that people are having a broader taste for the truth," he says.
In fact, Lucas and the cast of "Glory Road" witnessed first-hand the lingering presence of racism. When the cast went out one night in the south before filming (the movie was shot in Texas and Louisiana) a passerby made a racist remark to one of the black actors. "One of our white athletes jumped him and there was a whole sense of this team being bonded by that and really awakened to the fact that things haven't changed that much," Lucas says.
"Racism doesn't die," says Mehcad Brooks, who plays forward Harry Flournoy Jr. "It just morphs."
The movie also could change the way people look at basketball today, adds Al Shearer, who plays forward Nevil Shed. "A lot of people are just going to have a better appreciation for [players like] Michael Jordan, Lebron [James], Tracy [McGrady] and AI [Allen Iverson] because they wouldn't have ever happened if [the Texas Western championship] hadn't happened," he says.
While the movie is certain to provoke general debate, athletes may feel a special impact. Lucas recounts that, after Miami Heat coach Pat Riley (who served as an adviser on the film and played on the Kentucky team that lost to Texas Western) saw the movie, he declared, "I'll make the [team] see this movie in the next few days because these guys don't know."
Originally published Jan. 11, 2006.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times