Turn Back the Clock

Love & Basketball

The Movie and What it Meant to Me

Distributed by New Line Cinema
Produced by Spike Lee and Sam Kitt
Written and Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Running Time: 127 Minutes

By Jon Minners

Let the Links Guide You:   Introduction            The Story           Halftime           Game Over?

Monica: I'll play you.   Quincy: For what?

Monica: Your heart.

It was April, 2000 and it was my last year of college.  Life was going really well.  The real world was just around the corner, but, at the same time, life was still about having fun.  I was well into a relationship with the woman I was supposed to marry and I was playing basketball every weekend at Loreto Park.  It couldn’t get better than this.  Love and Basketball; what else did I need. 

That same month, I saw the greatest movie ever made; a film appropriately titled Love & Basketball.  It was a press junket that I attended to review the film for my school arts and entertainment paper The Asylum.  When you go in to see these junkets, you never know what you are going to get.  I had no idea I would see a film that would follow me throughout my life and become such a part of me. 

The quote up top is from the very end of the film; one of the most romantic interactions between two well-developed characters in a film that was just perfectly written to capture the emotions involved in following your dream, if living your life and discovering love.  From the playgrounds to the pro leagues, Monica Wright, played by Sanaa Lathan, and Quincy McCall, played by Omar Epps, taught each other how to play the game.  Now, their commitment to the sport will force them to make a choice between each other and the game…between family and team…between Love and Basketball

“My main driving force was to make a black love story with a backdrop of basketball,” said the film’s director Gina Prince-Bythewood

    Mission accomplished. The film is actually set in four quarters, just like a basketball game.  The film starts on the basketball courts.  Both Quincy and Monica are 11.  Monica has just moved into the community; a tomboy looking to be the first woman in the NBA, but in this neighborhood, dreams and ambitions are one thing, proving yourself is another.  Monica embarrasses Quincy on the court, leading to a hard foul that leaves a scar on Monica’s face and an impression in her heart; both for life.  Quincy develops a crush and the two become boyfriend and girlfriend for all of two seconds, before brawling with one another in what becomes a prelude of things to come. 

The second quarter fast forwards to high school where Epps and Lathan take over their respective characters.  Both Monica and Quincy, who she affectionately calls big head, are now the stars of their high school basketball teams.  They attend each other’s games.  They cheer each other on.  They know each other inside out.  Their dreams of making it in the NBA are as strong as ever and with scouts watching their games that dream looks to be coming true, for different reasons.  Quincy wants to be just like his dad, a star for the Clippers.  Monica just wants to break the glass ceiling and make it in a sport that had yet to have the WNBA.  Monica’s desire is very much like Bythewood’s desire to make it in the film industry. 

“I’m used to being the only girl doing this stuff,” said the director.  “They told me so few women make it in films.  That was the biggest negative comment I received.”

But Bythewood persevered and made it where others thought she couldn’t.  It’s the same philosophy Monica adapted and coincidentally enough, the exact same philosophy adapted by the woman playing her character.  Lathan didn’t know how to play basketball before she auditioned for the part.  The talent as an actress was there, but the skills on the court were missing.  Showing her determination, Lathan practiced and added that skill to her repertoire without even knowing if she had the part.  “I started playing with my brother and some of his friends, and then they got me a coach,” said Lathan.  “It took five months.  I definitely have a new respect for basketball.”

That respect showed, as Lathan provided women athletes with hope that their dreams can be achieved without compromising their life.  “Some people just don’t think women can play ball,” said Bythewood.  “I wanted to put it out there that we can, and I used that as a backdrop for a love story about two people trying to achieve their dreams without losing each other.”

Epps adds, “I think the film definitely has a positive effect.  I think it gives something else for kids to dream of doing, especially young black girls.  It gives them hope.”

But the film is also about love.  The second quarter also focuses on the conflict between Monica and her mother, who wants to see Monica perform more feminine roles.  The mother wins one battle, getting Lathan to go to the prom and helping to make the rough exterior into something beautiful.  The prom does not only feature one of the funniest lines of the film, as Gabrielle Union’s character, who shows up as Quincy’s date, shows some jealousy toward Monica when she states, “I didn’t know Nike made dressed,” but it also leads to the most pivotal scene in the film when Monica and Quincy finally express their love for one another.  Monica’s first sexual experience is a romantic experience, but comes complete with a scene where Quincy pulls out a condom from its wrapper, sending out an important message to those viewing the film. 

“The scene had a point,” said Bythewood.  “I did not want it to be a gratuitous scene.  Most films make it look simple; easy and romantic.  This was romantic, but you saw how scared she was.”

The second quarter begins with action and ends with romance.  The third quarter focuses on their college career at USC.  Quincy finds it easy to adapt to college life, becoming a star player for the team and looking at the possibility of entering the NBA early against his father’s wishes.  Monica finds it hard, struggling to make it on a team that views a rookie as an outsider.  Stubborn as a male, Monica discovers what is accepted in a man’s game is frowned upon by the women.  She must adapt and work that much harder to make it, all the while keeping things together with her new boyfriend, Quincy.  The perfect basketball couple falls apart when Quincy’s father admits to cheating on Quincy’s mother and Monica makes the wrong decision when choosing between Love and Basketball

Things never seem the same.  The fourth quarter begins with Quincy playing in the NBA, no longer a star and actually a bench player who comes out when the game is no longer competitive.  But a paycheck is a paycheck until a major injury sets his life back.  “It’s obvious,” said Epps.  “You have to have a backup plan with everything concerning entertainment and the money behind it.  You have to have a backup plan no matter what you do.  But…you know…follow your heart.”

Lathan follows her dream, but without the WNBA at the time, women end up only playing oversees where they are treated like stars.  What does that mean anymore?  As Quincy plans to get married to a character played by his Higher Learning co-star Tyra Banks and Monica realizing she is missing something in her life, a final basketball game is played between the two with the stakes higher than ever before and the result changing both their lives forever. 

Love & Basketball was just a movie where the story just captures your attention and the characters make you fall in love with the film.  No other characters could have pulled these roles off.  In only two hours, the viewer watches the characters grow and realize what is important in their lives.  They see a love story, a story about growing up, a tale about struggle, a story about strength, a story about responsibility, a story that will inspire anyone to follow their dreams and make sure those dreams never take them away from their dreams (don’t worry; you’ll understand.)  These characters become a part of you.  Like a spectator at a basketball game, you just hope they play well with each other and score a victory in the end, on and off the court.  Dreams can come true.  Love & Basketball makes you believe. 

I believed.  When I broke up with the girl I was supposed to marry, I met the girl who in the first quarter was just my waitress at Applebee’s, but got my attention right away with the most amazing eyes I ever saw.  In the second quarter she became my friend, who hung out with me and called me big head.  Yes, she loved the movie, too.  At the end of the second quarter, we kissed and all seemed alright with the world.  In the third quarter, we had conflict until on Christmas, because of how much she loved the film, I gave her my heart in the form of two autographed pictures from Epps and Lathan straight out of the film, framed and meant to show I cared.  The best Christmas she ever had; the third quarter ended with her saying goodbye and never wanting to speak to me again.  The fourth quarter was the comeback that resulted in a great friendship, but seemingly nothing more.  She still calls me big head.  It still makes me smile.  Maybe there are some seconds still ticking on the clock, maybe overtime awaits or maybe the game is over and a new game is just about to be played.  Whatever happens, one thing you learn early in life is, All’s Fair in Love and Basketball


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