I may be a couple days late, but oh well, who cares? The movie Sunset Park was released on April 26, 1996, and even today it is still one of the most popular basketball movies that have ever hit the theaters. It’s hard to believe that the movie turned 20 years old and an undesirable reminder that I am getting up there in age.
Rewinding back the times, I could remember begging my older cousins to let me see the movie with them, and like most older cousins dealing with their young annoying cousins, I was told no on multiple occasions. Being as persistent as I was, I asked my mom with my undeniable charm, and she was cool enough to take me to go see the movie with a few of my friends. The rest was history, and Sunset Park became one of my favorite basketball movies of all time.
Looking back on it, it was a movie that was bigger than just a group of teenagers playing high school basketball. The movie dealt with cultural and social issues that are still a problem in society today, and it also displayed that despite race, gender, and class, goals can be achieved if everyone buys into the team concept.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to relive some of the memorable moments from the hit movie.
The Movie Had A Hell Of A Soundtrack
This era of hip-hop is vastly different compared to where it was 20 years ago. The Sunset Park soundtrack is vastly underrated when it comes to movie soundtracks. It featured Onyx, 2Pac, Junior M.A.F.I.A., Aaliyah, The Dogg Pound, Mobb Deep, Queen Latifah, Ghostface, Raekwon and a host of others. Can a soundtrack get any better than that?
Phyllis Saroka Was Awesome
Played by actress Rhea Perlman, high school physical education teacher at Brooklyn High School, Phyllis Saroka took over the high school basketball team at Sunset Park. The feisty coach had to deal with gender barriers and stereotypes for obvious reasons, but she gained respect along the way.
Initially, the task of coaching was to make extra money to open a restaurant, but it became something that she revered. After having a David Blatt-like feel to try to win over the team at the beginning, the players gravitated to Ms. Saroka after she displayed her "take no shit" approach to things. After she ruffled a few feathers, the guys began to play as a team.
Though the team at Sunset Park fell short in the City Championship, it learned a lot of character values from Ms. Saroka, and the players started to build continuity together as a team and as people. Despite them losing under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden in the City Championship, it was enough to sway Ms. Saroka to return to coach the team. After the team transformed under the tutelage of Ms. Saroka, she had an awesome feeling of elation knowing that she had a positive impact on the school, the community and the hard-headed teenagers whom she began to love.
Ms. Saroka worked magic with a group of unheralded teenagers, maybe Phil Jackson can give her a call to save the New York Knicks.
“Butter” & Tristan Thompson Might Be Brothers
Tristan Thompson and Butter (Talent Harris) might be separated at birth. OK, that’s impossible, but they look alike and play alike. Butter was a talented post player who was relentless on the block. Thompson may lack some of the post moves that Butter possessed, but the similarities are glaring. The Cleveland big might want to watch the film to pick up some post moves from his clone.
Anthony C. Hall Acting As A Basketball Player Is Underrated
Mr. Hall may be best known for Tony in the hit movie Blue Chips starring Nick Nolte, Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, but he also played Andre in Sunset Park. Rocking the No. 44 yet again, Hall held it down on the court. Things weren’t always rosy with him on the hardwood, but at least he didn’t get caught point shaving by Ms. Saroka.
Drano And Spaceman Were The Ultimate Glue Guys
Drano (Antwon Tanner) and Spaceman (Terrence Howard) weren’t the most confident guys in the world, but they meshed well with the team. Both guys appeared to be shy and weird to some on and off the court, but as they became more comfortable, they were better players and personalities for the team.
Despite a late brush with Shorty, Spaceman was a great locker room guy despite his quiet demeanor. Drano, who also doubled as the team tutor, showed his worth by helping teammates and hitting three-pointers for his squad. When building a team, every player has his role, and Drano and Spaceman were the perfect glue guys that everyone needed them to be. Stars are always clamored for, but the glue guys are just important.
Every Team Needs a Guy like Busy-Bee
Busy-Bee (De’Aundre Bonds) was one of the smallest guys on the court, but his heart was colossal. Despite not playing a lot of minutes like the other guys on the team, he gave his all no matter what. Whether it was cheering to the top of his lungs or playing an occasional five minutes, you knew what you would be getting from Busy-Bee.
Shorty Want To Be A Thug, But He Wanted To Be Cared For
Shorty Doo-Wop and Ms. Saroka were attached at the hip. The two formed a bond from the first time they met. While their bond was a bit dysfunctional, it was a relationship that Shorty needed during that time in his life.
On the court, there was a dynamic point guard and coach relationship, and off the court, Ms. Saroka nurtured Shorty as if he was her own. Despite their close relationship, things weren’t always smooth, but they hatched out their differences throughout the movie.
Shorty, who invested in the streets, sort of transformed under Ms. Saroka, but he relapsed on multiple occasions as he admitted to shooting someone. Shorty also felt betrayed by Ms. Saroka when he received information that she took the coaching job to open up a restaurant. Shorty was hurt due to the bond that the two had started, but they eventually hashed out the differences in their relationship.
The player-coach relationship with guys like Shorty and coaches or teachers like Ms. Saroka are seen in many schools around the country. Despite the tough exterior, many young adults just need someone to believe in them. Shorty’s name resonated in the streets, yet he was sensitive despite his tough mantra. And at the end of the day, he just wanted a shoulder to lean on, and Ms. Saroka provided that.
We at TSFJ would like to wish a happy 20th anniversary to Sunset Park. From a personal perspective, I would like to say thanks to the movie cast for having an everlasting impact on my childhood by creating one of my favorite movies as a youngster. Last but not least, I'd like to thank my mom for taking my friends and me to the Northland Cinema to see such an awesome movie.
In celebration of the anniversary, I will watch it today and scream at the top of my lungs: SUNSET PARK, WHAT TIME IS IT? IT’S TO GET LIVE, IT’S TIME TO REPRESENT!