‘Game’ scores more off court

Jordan Pohlman

In every Spike Lee Joint, the Brooklyn-raised filmmaker references a professional sports team. Anyone attending a Knicks game at the Garden has seen the director on the sidelines, and in his third feature film, he teaches Basketball Drama 101. Basketball in Coney Island is taught the same way street smarts are taught – welcome to the School of Hard Knocks.

“He Got Game” depicts the rise of an American basketball phenomenon. ESPN calls Jesus Shuttlesworth “the chosen one … the resurrection … the salvation.” Dick Vitale calls him “awesome with a capital A.” Michael Jordan smiles and nods, “He got game.” Every college in the nation wants Shuttlesworth on their court, and the corruption leaves Shuttlesworth’s head spinning.

Shuttlesworth wants to break the world’s backboard, and has the skill to do so, but the challenges are deeper than the game of basketball reveals. He is tempted by women, money, cars, fame and women. He is also pressured by his father, released from prison by the state in an effort to persuade his son to go to the governor’s alma mater.

When Shuttlesworth’s father confronts him with this proposal, he can only see the man who murdered his mother, and the tension is thick. Yet even in all the chaos, it is the memory of his mother that gives him strength. When a shady NBA agent begins making promises of mansions and money, Shuttlesworth refuses because it isn’t right. The agent explains, “Jesus, men make decisions with their minds; boys make decisions with their heart.” Shuttlesworth knows he’s a man, but when he stares at a picture of his mother, he can only see her through the eyes of a child.

Shuttlesworth doesn’t make the most important decision of his life until the end, but before he does, his father warns him, “you better get that hate out of your heart.” Forgiveness takes courage, and he knows that hate is not going to prepare him for the next level. He has a pure love in his heart for the game of basketball and a pure memory in his mind of his mother. One dishes off to the other and there are no more obstacles; the world’s backboard is as good as broken.

On the surface, “He Got Game” is about basketball. But on a deeper level, the mental turmoil that Jesus Shuttlesworth endures can be felt by anyone trying to break out in the world. There is drama and temptation in all the games we play. But if we handle these situations with honor, there is redemption. And if we’re as dedicated as Shuttlesworth, maybe even a highlight reel. Michael Jordan noticed the game, Spike Lee captured it, but we all live it.

The upcoming feature in the current Cultural Film and Lecture Series, “He Got Game,” will be shown four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m. Admission is $3 for students and $4 for all others.

The Monday evening showing will feature guest speaker Maghan Keita from the History Department, who will introduce the film and lead a discussion, “Spike’s Hoop Dreams,” following the viewing.