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Love and Basketball: 20 Years Later

The band got back together to reminisce and discuss the impact and legacy of Love and Basketball. Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film’s director, was joined by Alfre Woodard, Kyla Pratt, Sanaa Lathan, Terilyn Shrapshire, and Candace Parker for a conversation that was mediated by Patty Jenkins where they touched on each and every aspect of the film from casting to its cultural impact. This movie was revolutionary in many ways and influenced an entire generation of young, female hoopers.

The film was groundbreaking in many ways and was definitely a game-changer. It was the first basketball movie that was centered around a female ballplayer. But make no mistake, it’s as relatable and genuine as it gets as far as sports movies go. Many female athletes saw themselves in Sanaa Lathan’s awesome portrayal of Monica Wright. Authenticity was extremely important to Gina. She’s had a ball in her hands since she was 4 years old and she wanted her movie to represent basketball in the best way possible. She said, “I never wanted anyone to look up on the screen and not see a female baller.” Spoken like a true hooper. During the interview, Gina revealed she watched just about every basketball movie ever made to draw inspiration for Love and Basketball.

Gina stated that she was overwhelmed by the maturation and the staying power of the film. It’s surreal for her that the movie still resonates so deeply with audiences 20 years after the fact. To think this was a film that almost never saw the light of day is wild. Every studio turned it down until 40 Acres and a Mule stepped in and I’m glad they did. Gina walked a masterpiece through the doors only to have countless movie execs turn her away every time– but she knew she had to tell this story.

She persevered and got to share this gift with the world. She called it a “movie of destiny”. Seemingly it was, even down to the casting. Sanaa Lathan never touched a basketball prior to this film but Prince-Bythewood knew she had to portray Monica. Lathan went through rigorous training for four months, including workouts with coaches from the Sparks, and was more than believable in the movie.

Sanaa Lathan gave a timeless performance in the movie as Monica Wright. The role was identifiable with not only female athletes but with women in general. Women have to constantly prove themselves and Monica found herself in this position from the first time we saw her on screen. From the first pickup game when she moved to Quincy’s neighborhood, to the recruitment process in high school, to proving she was a better fit at USC than Tanya Randall, Monica had to fight and claw for everything she got. At the time it seemed like a long shot but after the movie’s debut, everyone saw what Gina saw. No one could have played that role other than Sanaa Lathan.

The conversation would not have been complete without the real life embodiment of the main character. Candace Parker has entered the chat. She has a lot in common with the film’s leading lady. Both of them grew up playing ball against boys. They both played for prestigious collegiate programs. They both starred for the LA Sparks, and they both are the best hoopers in their families (kinda joking but not really lol).

Candace gave immediate praise to Gina and the cast members for creating such an influential project. She said that the movie shaped her in many ways. She was 14 when it premiered and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for Candace. The WNBA had just come to fruition a few years earlier and women’s basketball was getting recognition stateside for the first time. Candace smiled as she proudly displayed her Monica Wright replica Crenshaw jersey. She spoke to how the movie helped her come into her own as a ball player. One scene she pointed out was when Monica got a tech in high school for giving another girl the death stare after punching her shot out of bounds.

In the movie Monica says, “You jump in some guy’s face, you talk smack and you get a pat on your ass, But because I’m a female I get told to calm down and act like a lady. I’m a ballplayer.” Candace expounded on this and said “If we show emotion, we’re not acting ladylike. Emotion is sport.” Truer words were never spoken. I have no problem with female athletes getting fired up, arguing calls, showing a little gamesmanship, and even getting into it with their opponents. All those things are a part of sports. And we can’t talk about female empowerment and standing behind female athletes if we aren’t going to fully allow them to be athletes.

A wide range of emotions comes with the territory. Of course we don’t want anything to happen that’s detrimental to the game or jeopardizes anyone’s safety. But while we’re watching “The Last Dance” and praising MJ for his competitive fire we have to keep that same energy for the lady ballers too.

The session ended with each of the participants giving their own thoughts on the movie and what it’s meant and I’m sure their sentiments echoed many of our own. They were thrilled and honored to be a part of history. The parallels between the lives of female hoopers and the movie were uncanny. And everyone involved was extremely happy to see basketball represented in such a genuine way. Gina didn’t want to let the basketball community down and put out a product that seemed disingenuous. I think it’s safe to say she hit her mark.

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Raymond Lyons
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Hoops Enthusiast. Self Proclaimed Genius. Native Washingtonian. And I know the first and last names of every character on The Simpsons. I have a deep passion for the game of basketball. I have played, reffed, coached and now reporting / blogging.

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