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Jun 9, 2024

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Happy NBA Finals! Helmut Brink is a little German boy who wants nothing more than to play the brand new sport called “basketball”. I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t we just fight a World War against the Germans? Why would we let them enjoy our (second) national pastime? But Helmut is a special little boy — he and his sister Brigitte were adopted as war refugees by a kindly Reverend of a little farming town in Washington, USA. They do their chores and say the Pledge of Allegiance like any other American schoolchildren, so they are allowed to have a little basketball as a treat. That’s the philosophy of school teacher Martin Conlon (played by Peter Coyote) in THE BASKET, a feature film for families released theatrically in the year 2000. Martin sees the men of his town struggling to pool their finances together to buy a new harvester machine, so he hatches the crazy scheme of putting together an amateur basketball team to compete for a tournament’s cash prize, having been trained in the exotic art by none other than basketball inventor James Naismith himself. Christians seem to love movie plots about people playing old timey sports — we’re reminded of SPIRIT OF THE GAME, a more recent Kevin Sorbo-fronted film about an early basketball tournament set in Australia. But THE BASKET goes beyond sportsmanship to weave a surprisingly complex plot with themes of war and immigration, set around the story of a fictitious opera DER KORB that was actually originally written and composed for this film. It’s still hard to imagine a film like this would ever have broad enough popular appeal to be released in theaters — it’s slow, goofy, pastoral, and much of the dialogue is delivered in a fake German accent. It speaks to a bygone pop cultural era where Christian stories were accepted in secular contexts because people appreciated their overt wholesomeness. Although THE BASKET may not be the most exciting sports film, it does feature one of the most shocking endings to a basketball game ever imagined. We can only hope James Naismith is smiling down at this film from heaven — in between teaching Jesus how to land the perfect free throw.

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