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Timeless message drives ‘Glory Road’

Courtney Wilson | Wednesday, February 15, 2006

These days, it is unlikely that anyone would question the talent, influence or place of black athletes in competitive basketball. In the 1960s, however, small-minded and racist thinking was still commonplace.

While “Glory Road” replicates the same predictable formula as previous Disney sports movies, its message resonates nonetheless.

“Glory Road” tells the story of how Coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) made basketball history by turning around Texas Western University’s (Texas University at El Paso) program by changing the makeup of the school’s basketball team. He eventually played an all-black starting lineup in the NCAA Championship in 1966 against a white Kentucy team. Haskins, after leaving his job as a girl’s high school basketball coach, is determined to make a winning team despite the lack of name recognition needed to recruit top players. Desperate, but nonetheless keeping an open mind, Haskins recruits a team full of black players who, based solely on color, are unwanted by other colleges.

Facing opposition from all sides, Lucas plays Haskins’ fierce yet controlled character impressively. Haskins is tough on his players, demanding discipline both on and off the court. Hostile opposition from crowds and local racists are set off by Haskins’ stern and unwavering fatherlike image and powerful locker room speeches. What the movie fails to make clear, however, is whether or not Haskins is working to make a statement by pushing his black athletes to the forefront, or whether his actions were merely a coincidental way to win basketball games. Audiences will have to assume both if they are emotionally invested the story. Whether he did so or not, his place in basketball history will forever be respected.

Haskins and his team are forced to overcome all of the obstacles that come with an integrated team traveling through racist southern cities in the 1960s. The film depicts little violence on the actual campus of Texas Western, saving its most dramatic scenes for the hatred and humiliation faced on the road.

Of course, it would be almost impossible not to compare “Glory Road” to numerous other Disney sports movies, most obviously “Remember the Titans.” Recall the story of a black coach who integrates a high school football team. While some points in the movie are predictable and obviously formulated, there is one important difference. “Remember the Titans,” unlike it basketball counterpart, focuses mainly on the relationship between the black and white players.

“Glory Road,” however, focuses largely on the success and emotion of each game on the road to the championship. For this reason, it might be assumed that the plot is aimed at a younger, more sports-enthused audience. But the story is no less inspirational.

The best part of the movie comes at the very end, during the credits, with a tribute to Haskins and the entire 1966 Texas Miners team. Clips from the real game and a synopsis of each player’s continued success are encouraging.

Now more than ever, the inspiring story of Texas Western University’s team and its1966 NCAA Championship will continue to be recognized as the most influential game in college basketball history. If nothing else, watch “Glory Road” for its uplifting spirit and positive message.