High-school basketball is just a game, but for a few hours
in 1965, it became far more than that, as Turner Network Television's fact-based
movie, Passing Glory, makes clear.
There's almost as much star power behind the camera as
before it, with Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Quincy Jones among the four executive
producers. And Steve James, director of documentary HoopDreams, also
directed this drama -- which, in a sense, could be dubbed Hoop Schemes.
Andre Braugher and Rip Torn are the dominant players in
this inspiring drama. But Sean Squire as Travis Porter, star player on the all-black St.
Augustine team, and Ruby Dee as his blind grandmother, Mommit, are also outstanding.
Torn's Father Grant, who masks his passion with
diplomacy, has gone through channels to have the top white and black Catholic high-school
teams compete for a citywide title in New Orleans, but without success.
Father Verrett -- played by Braugher with the same
intensity that he brings to NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street -- uses a tip
that the local newspaper's star sportswriter is "passing" for white to
pressure him into writing a column headlined, "Time Has Come for Dream Match."
But it's Travis who makes it happen by throwing down a
face-to-face challenge to the white team's captain.
The big game is played behind closed doors, with only
families allowed as spectators. During a halftime pep talk, Verrett tells his team --
which is losing at that point -- about the glory that was given to Joe Louis, then passed
on to Bill Russell, Cassius Clay and now to them, hence this movie's title.
Besides obviously being about prejudice and civil rights, Glory
is about families and father-son relationships -- including, in a looser sense, the
relationship between the two priests.
Among the lesser roles, Michael Sahr Ngaujah is poignant as
Little Ricky, a victim of the old sports system.
Travis -- who becomes the first black to attend Tulane
University on an athletic scholarship -- is in real life Harold Sylvester, who wrote this
screenplay. And the game truly did change things when the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in
1967 in favor of St. Augustine, which led to the integration of all high-school sports in
Louisiana and, later, throughout the nation.
Passing Glory will premiere on TNT Feb. 21 at 8 p.m.,
with seven repeats due through March 1.