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'Love & Basketball': More Than A Game

by Nijla Mumin
March 28, 2013 3:13 PM
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'Love & Basketball'
'Love & Basketball'

"I'll play you."


"One game. One-on-one."

"For what?"

"Your heart."

Those are the words spoken by lead characters Monica Wright and Quincy McCall in one of the most daring scenes in "Love & Basketball." Stakes are high for the potential romantic reunion between them and this one game will decide their fate. In another film, this set-up might not work, but writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood builds a world so rich with basketball, family and depth that when this scene comes, we exist in it with the characters. Emotions are synonymous with the basketball game the two main characters share in; a convergence of sport and meaning that makes the film memorable and worth repeat viewings.

There are many ways a film like this could've been directed. Stories involving sports and African American people flood the media every day. But this film does something different—it makes basketball intimate and extremely specific to the lives of the characters and their families. Therefore, it isn’t just a game they play in order to get a scholarship to college; it is a game that bonds them, while also pulling them apart.

One of the best illustrations of this is the relationship between Monica (played fiercely by Sanaa Lathan), and Quincy (played by Omar Epps), which rests on their collective love of the game as children and into adulthood. As they get older, basketball starts to take on more sobering meanings, such as Monica's introduction to the lingering sexism in intercollegiate athletics at a time when the WNBA didn't exist. She is chastised for her unapologetic demeanor on the court, while Quincy isn't. Later, Quincy's love of the game is tested when he's betrayed by his father, the sole reason he became a basketball player. Basketball is an ever-changing theme in the story, a device of both unification and division, especially with Monica and her homemaking mother, who views the sport as a boundary between them.

In this way, basketball becomes love, connection and even estrangement. In one sequence, Monica and Quincy slow dance at their prom with different dates, but share a deep, sensual glance across the dance floor. Later, Monica discovers she's been accepted to the same school as Quincy, where she'll play for the women's basketball team. This ignites passion between them in a love scene that is both tender and beautiful for its subtlety and respect of a first-time experience. Then, basketball becomes the catalyst for their breakup, highlighting Monica's undying commitment to it and Quincy's growing distrust of it.

When we reach the climax of their one-on-one game, we buy it precisely because basketball was never just a game in this film. It was always a specific association, a feeling, and an undying passion. Bythewood, who won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay in 2000, makes sure that the film lives up to its name. “Love & Basketball,” indeed.

Which other African American sports films successfully personify the game, making the sport a character in itself?

XFINITY On Demand™ is currently celebrating March Madness by featuring sports films such as "Love & Basketball" and “Undefeated.” Learn more, and join the celebration of Black entertainment at

Editor’s Note: Shadow and Act partnered with XFINITY to celebrate Black entertainment. Be sure to visit, a unique digital community built around the love of Black TV, film, sports, music and more. Shadow and Act hopes to enrich this community and provide a launching pad for insightful discussion. Look to Shadow and Act for features and content examining and exploring key themes and topics that run throughout the history of Black entertainment.

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  • deecreative | March 30, 2013 8:10 PMReply

    @africameleon, I agree with you 100%, this movie and Brown Sugar touched a generation of black kids, teenagers and young adults. I remember when I went to see this movie, I was a senior in high school, I went to buy the soundtrack a week after I saw the movie. The movie either represented a lot of lives or represented how people felt because we were so young. I know for me I'm like you, I started playing basketball at 9 and to this day I still love the game just as much. At the time it was my connection to a relationship as well, I met a guy that I dated playing a pick up game(no joke). Also the soundtrack and just the way the movie felt real, it felt like it really happened(well it did for many). I think that's why people gravitate towards it because it represented real life, real life high school situations, relationships, personal feelings, family interaction.

  • Anti-believer | March 29, 2013 1:23 AMReply

    Such a great film! This film had great emotional scenes after and another. Great actors!!!

    For those who don't get it??? You must've been on horrible date, wax in yo ears, blind or emotional wall built up.

  • Anti-believer | March 29, 2013 9:09 PM

    LOL @ Doltamite... ok.

  • Carl | March 29, 2013 11:54 AM

    The film is shit so fuck you!

  • sergio | March 29, 2013 11:51 AM

    Calm down, calm down. Do you have tantrum like a 3 year old every time someone disagrees with you? You must be a joy to live with.

    P.S. I still don't "get" the film. It's watchable at best. I mean it's no Dolomite for sure. Now that's a GREAT film

  • Africameleon | March 28, 2013 6:03 PMReply

    L & B is a beautiful film.

    This film is praised because it tells the story of black women who's stories don't often get told. That is, black women who do not fit traditional ideas of femininity. Even though it may not have gone far enough against heteronomaivity, it made a big difference for some audience members. Namely, me.

    I've played the game since I was 9 years old - and I LOVE MEN! - just to be clear for all the simpletons out there. The fact that a tom-boy like me was the central character meant a lot to me AND my then boyfriend. I had never seen a depiction of BLACK-Tom Boy-Love like this on screen. My life has been more L & B than "Jumping the Broom." L & B was MY fairytale.

    This film definitely wasn't made for everybody, especially people who have issues with female athletes or women who play outside gender lines - be it the military, business, academe, or what ever. And don't get me started on issues of sexuality and gender identity - Chil' please.

    That being said. I also like the little known film staring Tony Todd, "Tournament of Dreams" it's also a great film that "made the sport a character in itself." I also like "Fast Girl" the Noel Clarke film; "Girl Fight" with Michelle Rodiguez; and "Fast Break" the old school movie with Mavis Washington.

  • Africameleon | March 28, 2013 11:35 PM

    My bad, "Girl Fight" is not an African American film. I'll replace that with "The Last Fall" with Lance Gross. Football seemed to be a character that kept getting in the way of the two main characters' happiness. Like a mistress of sorts. Good film.

  • Nadia | March 28, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    The appeal of this film has always been lost on me. It's an average drama but the way some black folks talk about it, you'd think it was one of the greatest black films ever made. And if it is, then well we got problems Lol. This is what happens when we don't have much. We over-praise things that are just ok.

  • ScriptTease | March 30, 2013 10:55 PM

    I loved the film because it was a "Black Love Story" without all the gangbanging. I also agree with you about we don't have much which causes us to over praise things, it is what it is. We need more movies.... positive movies like Love & Basketball. I am so waiting on the day when I can go to the theater and see another powerful black love story without all the gangbanging, preferably one of my own. :)


  • roberto | March 28, 2013 11:04 PM

    I'm not a basketball fan and I lover this movie, the emotion is real, the soundtrack is AWESOME.. the Best performance Sanaa has ever given

  • Jean | March 28, 2013 6:45 PM

    As someone who bought the DVD, I don't think it's one of the greatest black films ever made. But, I'm around the age the characters were, could relate to Monica since I was a girl athlete who dated boy athletes, and at the time I REALLY loved Omar Epps.

  • sergio | March 28, 2013 3:49 PM

    THANK GOD And I thought I was the only one. I think it appeals mainly to people who like REALLY REALLY love basketball and since I think I've only seen maybe 10 minutes of one game once in my entire life (before I nodded off) maybe the appeal of the film goes over my head

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