SLAM PH Movie Week: Looking back at He Got Game 20 years later

Basketball has played a huge role in cinema. It can be as simple as the backdrop in a budding relationship, an escape to a better life, away from the inner city, or the only way to save the world from alien invasion. Basketball in cinema is riveting, inspirational and fantastic.

So, welcome to the SLAM PH Movie Week! The team breaks down their favorite basketball movie (or movie with any semblance of basketball).


Make a list of basketball movies, and chances are, you’re going to end up mentioning He Got Game. It isn’t necessarily because people hail it as this must-watch movie. A big part of its recall in people’s minds is because of Jesus Shuttlesworth.

Let me guess: the first name that popped into your mind when I said ‘Jesus Shuttlesworth’ was Ray Allen. I can’t blame you, you’re likely not alone. The poster doesn’t even primarily feature Ray, but because the name was used time and time again by the media, it just stuck. Ray Allen is Jesus Shuttlesworth. He had a movie. End of story.

SLAM Philippines writers Karlo Lovenia and Jon Rodriguez didn’t want that to just be the end of the story. They went ahead, and rewatched the movie (at least one of them did), and talked about it right after.

From all of the pop culture references, the characters, and of course, the sneakers, Karlo and Jon went back and made sense of what made He Got Game more than just Ray Allen.

Karlo Lovenia: Confession: It was my first time to watch He Got Game a few days ago. I was just two years old when the movie released so…

Jon Rodriguez: Two years old. Wow Karlo, thanks for dunking on your Tito Jon with that opening line. I think I was in first year high school when this came out. He Got Game might’ve been the only movie I’ve seen in laser disc, VCD, DVD, and Netflix. Do you know what a laser disc is?

Karlo: *insert Nick Young confused gif*

Jon: Laser disc is the vinyl of movies, except that it’s not hipster and it’s never coming back. But anyway, watching He Got Game in 2018, what were your thoughts in the first few scenes?

Karlo: Some of the few basketball movies I’ve watched are Coach Carter, Space Jam and Thunderstruck. I was expecting something light, I mean the title sounds pretty ‘jumpy’. Instead, it turns out Denzel Washington’s a convict. That struck me hard.

Jon: Speaking of the title, it certainly didn’t age well 20 years later. Do kids say, “Oh I like Steph. He got game”???

Karlo: If anything, the name that struck the most when talking about the movie was Jesus Shuttlesworth. That aged pretty damn well.

Jon: Yeah, Jesus never gets old.

Karlo: You know what else aged pretty well? The entire concept of the movie. It wasn’t Ray Allen saving the Looney Tunes, but watching his character go through the recruiting process was eye-opening.

Jon: I’m pretty sure Big Time Willy is a real-life character that exists today.

Karlo: Definitely. That was probably the most eye-opening scene for me in the entire movie. It’s something that doesn’t just apply in 1998.

Jon: Was Ray Allen’s acting also eye-opening for you?

Karlo: Yeah. Made me realize he’s better off taking corner three pointers to tie games in the Finals.

Jon: Ouch! (But I agree.) Re-watching it now, I kept thinking what would Kobe do? A lot of names were reportedly attached to the role of Jesus Shuttlesworth: Kobe, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett. Who do you think would’ve been a good Jesus?

Karlo: Kobe makes sense, but I don’t think he’d go to parties. He’d be training in Serbia with bears or something. KG and AI, they make sense. I can totally picture being overprotective towards their sisters, while having legitimate daddy issues.

Jon: Also, Kobe wouldn’t allow Denzel scoring on him to make it on film. He’d yell ‘cut’ and pack up shooting day if he had to. Also, also, “training in Serbia with bears or something” is a totally Kobe mood. How about T-Mac?

Karlo: He’s a pretty safe choice. Not as much of a risk as KG and AI, doesn’t train in Serbia. He might score 13 points in 35 seconds versus Denzel though. That might be a problem.

Jon: Agree. Ray Allen just had the right mix of cool and intense. T-Mac might be too intense and too animated for Jesus.

Karlo: I’ll be honest though, as cool as it was seeing Ray Allen act, Rick Fox did a pretty good job too. Sounded like Razor Ramon quite a bit there.

Jon: Yes! Rick Fox might have had the most fun making this movie. He oozed machismo. (Side note: Rick Fox is a totally made up wrestling name, right? Sounds too close to Slick Fox.) Spike should’ve just used his real name and not Chick Deagan.

Karlo: Rick Fox sounds like a name you’d use for the Draymond Green of wrestling.

Jon: His finishing move: The Nut Shot. Sorry, what are we talking about again?

Karlo: Other players possibly portraying Jesus Shuttlesworth. That got me thinking.. what if we got a Pinoy version? How would we call Jesus? What would the title of the movie be? ‘Siya ay may laro’? If we do an INCREDIBLY ROUGH translation of ‘Jesus Shuttlesworth’ to Tagalog, we’d get this: Hesus Kahonngmgamesanakakahalaga

Jon: Well, we have a Pinoy superhero named Victor Magtanggol who’s not at all patterned after Thor, so I see this not far from happening. But to answer your question, I’d pay to see a Pinoy version of He Got Game starring Arwind Santos as Jesus and maybe Pen Medina as Jake.

Karlo: For fun, I’d want to see Junemar as Jesus, then Ervin Sotto as Jake. Then we can have He Got Game 2, with Kai Sotto as the long lost son of Jesus, Ray. Or Raymundo.

Jon: Junemar in a movie. Why hasn’t that happened yet??

Karlo: I just hope they don’t use him like Andre the Giant in the Princess Bride. He deserves better, his own movie in fact. Let’s work off that: Arwind Santos as Jesus. Who would be his cousin?

Jon: Cousin Booger? Emman Monfort. Only choice.

Karlo: What about Chick? Marc Pingris?

Jon: YES! Marc Pingris does have that Rick Fox swag, come to think of it. Funny and smooth off the court; tough as nails on the court.

Karlo: It’s funny, 20 years later we can associate so much things with He Got Game. It still resonates in so many ways. Not in the in your face way other movies do things. It’s subtle, but it matters.

Jon: Definitely. I think the movie was able to beautifully (and tragically?) capture what it means like to be a top high school prospect dealing with the temptation and fighting for, ultimately, the love for the game. It had everything: the best 90s sneakers, the epic soundtrack, the iconic one-on-one scene. Can we talk about that scene? We should, right?

Karlo: Of course. Those set of scenes in general, of the young, spunky kid going up against his dad with plenty of experience. Brought me back to how it was with my own dad. Made me think how I’d want to handle my future kid once I train him to be the first Filipino to win MVP in the NBA.

Jon: Make him watch He Got Game. That’s a good start. And tell him about how Denzel’s character wasn’t supposed to score, but Denzel, the actor, went off script and scored four straight points, pissing off both Ray Allen and his character.

Karlo: That totally sounds like something a Filipino dad would do. He’d give his son a couple of points at first, then eventually get pissed and score even though that wasn’t the plan.

Jon: Exactly. Aside from that scene, any other scene or quote or moment in the film that stuck with you?

Karlo: The sheer shift of personality from Jake. Let’s face it, he was an ass before he went into jail. But his time inside really changed him, made him reconsider some of his old beliefs. It just sucked that he already had this image stuck to him, which made reaching out to Jesus really hard.

Jon: Yeah, everything about out-of-prison-for-a-job Jake was great. Him getting the Jordan 13s; walking with Jesus on the Coney Island boardwalk, telling him how he got his name (“Not Jesus of the bible, Jesus of North Philadelphia. Jesus of the playgrounds.”); trying to put sense into Lay-la, sorry, Lala and then knocking out that other dude; everything.

Karlo: It kinda made me sad it didn’t end with Jake out of prison. But maybe that’s also what makes the movie different: it isn’t exactly a fairytale ending. It wasn’t a fairytale. Far from it.

Jon: Not unlike this chat. How do we end this? I feel like we can go on forever talking about He Got Game.

Karlo: We can probably end it now. But it probably won’t be the last time we’d ever talk about He Got Game. It’s timeless. It’s an outright classic, one you can watch at any time. 20 years later, it remains just that.

Grab your pair of the Air Jordan XIII ‘He Got Game’ via Titan RSVP. Winning entries can claim their pairs on Saturday, August 25. Strike fast like Jesus Shuttlesworth.

Photo from basketballmovies.net

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