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The One-Line Summary: When Western University basketball coach Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) suffers another losing season, he’s approached by university alumni Happy (J.T. Walsh) who sets no limits to what he will do to lure players onto the team, including bribes, payoffs, gifts and more, which Bell at first refuses but eventually caves to in order to secure a winning team.
The Two-Line Blurb: While Western is fictional, they play real ranked collegiate teams, including famed Indiana, with controversial coach Bobby Knight, which gives the film authenticity, helped even more by NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway playing athletes on the team. The film though is less about basketball and more about the lengths one will go to keep an earned status, which is well demonstrated in Nolte’s gripping performance, and supported by a powerful cast that rings true throughout.
The Three-Line Set-up: After his team goes 14-15 last season, Bell sets out to get the best players for his new team, but some of them already know about the money-games schools play and the honest coach doesn’t want any part of it, until he finally decides to turn a blind eye to the corruption as the school boosters make deals. His team gets stocked with the best in the country but an intrepid sports journalist named Ed (Ed O’Neill) is pretty sure something isn’t right and digs into the school’s recruiting practice. When Bell leads the team to big win on television over number one ranked Indiana, the guilt becomes too much when he takes the stages at the press conference.
The Four-Line Moment: It begins with Ed asking the question that has been dogging Bell from the start and it allows coach Bell to open up about his conscience and confess to the action of the school and himself. It shocks the capacity room and while it’s not taken quite seriously at first as reporters and alumni aren’t sure what is he is up to. When it becomes clear that the coach is exposing the school to corruption charges and tournament violations, things get serious. Nolte is tremendous in this moment, unburdening himself of the torment while berating the system for losing its focus on sport and becoming nothing but a game of money.
The Five-Word Review: Great on-court action and drama.