When Spike Lee released He Got Game in 1998 basketball was already moving towards becoming the most popular sport in the States. The director, understanding this and probably feeling that it was a deserved shift away from baseball (which is horrendously boring to watch on tv), crafted a narrative intending to display the finer points of the game while still attempting to levy some social and political criticism on the country that birthed him.
In the wake of so-so (at best) performances from Shaquille O’Neil in Blue Streak and a few others, Lee cast another actual athlete in on of the central roles in his film. Having Ray Allen, already accepted as one of the game’s rising stars, featured here worked from a marketing standpoint seeing as basketball’s popularity was on the rise, but also added a sense of realism that might have been lost if a proper actor had been in the role.
Allen’s performance was generally well thought of, and while there’s no reason to denigrate his acting skills, there were a more than a few instances of wooden acting. But being in the company of Bill Nunn and the malleable Denzel Washington such comparisons can only turn out one way.
With the film so focused on a sport, though, it’s worth commending Lee for finding a way by which to insert familial relationships into the narrative. With Jesus (Allen) being estranged from his incarcerated father, there needed to be a pretty inventive way for Lee to get Washington’s character out of the slammer. Luckily, since Lee is completely untrusting of any governmental arm, he conceived of a the state’s governor wanting to place Jesus on his alma mater’s ball squad and manipulating Washington’s character to achieve those ends.
Springing Washington seriptiously probably wouldn’t ever occur in real life for such a reason couldn’t ever happen – probably. But who knows?
Either way, planted in a flop house and granted a week to get the job done finds Washington short on time as well as ideas to win over his angry son – Washington’s character was sent up the river for the accidental murder of his wife. The entire setup reeks of a crooked system. And what’s more, Lee is able to extend his ‘don’t trust anyone’ mentality to Jesus as the high school senior is necessitated to pick a college or turn pro with everyone in his life jockeying for position and piece of the spoils.