Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Glory Road

The story of Texas Western's improbable run to the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship, which pitted its all-black starting five against the lily-white Kentucky juggernaut of the legendary Adolph Rupp, Glory Road is based on true events. However, since Jerry Bruckheimer produced the film, only a couple of facts can be safely verified: 1. There is a game called basketball, played with 10 players, a round ball, and two hoops posted 10 feet off the court. 2. Texas Western (known today as the University Of Texas El Paso) did indeed win the championship with the first all-black starting five. Beyond that, Bruckheimer and his team have taken liberties. For one, the film suggests that no one in El Paso had even heard of black people until coach Don Haskins started recruiting them, when in fact three black players were already on the team when he arrived. Texas Western was actually the first Southern college to integrate its athletic program. And though it isn't part of the historical record, a scene in which a poor mother from New York comes all the way down to El Paso to slap some sense into her son for failing geology probably didn't happen either.

An underdog sports movie by the numbers—Bruckheimer also produced the similarly calculated Remember The TitansGlory Road stars Josh Lucas as Haskins, a fiery coach who was indeed an important figure in the struggle to desegregate college athletics. With many of the most hotly recruited players going to the bigger schools, Haskins and his staff looked to unexplored corners of the country to pick up the sort of talent that could compete with more established programs. Led by explosive point guard Bobby Lee Jones (Derek Luke), Haskins' team quickly became the year's Cinderella story, steamrolling to the championship with a 27-1 record, yet still playing the underdog to Rupp's heavily favored Wildcats. The racial implications of that final game were undeniable: Rupp's all-white lineup reflected a reticence to integrate that has tarnished his legacy, while Haskins' team reflected a shift that would progress through the culture at large.

Unless the filmmaking were completely inept, it would be impossible to make a movie about Texas Western that isn't superficially exciting, but every underdog basketball story doesn't have to be Hoosiers. Glory Road treats history as if it were a 7th-grade social-studies text laid out in a 16-point font, getting the basics right without trying to evoke any of the details that would make it memorable. In other words, it gets the Bruckheimer treatment. Even a project with the noblest intentions is subject to commercial calculation.