Love (Yourself) & Basketball
Love & Basketball turns 20 years old this week. It defies many categories. It is a sports movie, but not quite. It is a romantic movie and a drama, but still not quite. It fits in its own category. It is a category of very personal pieces that creators hope and dream to make for years. I can’t quite speak to the basketball aspect of the movie, being an artiste and a nerd, but I can speak to the love part, being single. Gina Prince-Bythewood was an athlete, and Monica is very much her avatar. If that’s true, I hope Gina didn’t marry a man like Quincy, because...Monica, I’m talking to you; you can do better, honey.
Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) are next-door neighbors in this movie and best friends since childhood, always in and out of love with one another. For movies like this, for the two of them to end up together seems like what is “supposed” to happen. Destiny! Fate!
But here’s the thing, Quincy is an interminably awful boyfriend. He broke up with Monica because she didn’t want to break curfew to talk about his problems. She never said she wouldn’t listen to his issues, she just couldn’t do it at the bleachers. He doesn’t care about her passion for the same sport that he cares about, because to him, her interest will always be secondary and less real.
Monica seems to not be interested in exploring other options besides Quincy. When she goes to Spain, she doesn’t partake in dating the randy European men like her fellow players. She only wants Quincy. Not to sound like a therapist, but that is a very obvious case of low self-esteem. Quincy is her be all, end all, and she doesn’t have time for anyone else but him. However, it is defined on his terms. Quincy dates around a lot and even ends up engaged to Tyra Banks. Monica just quietly and sorrowfully waits for him. She does eventually take charge and challenges him to their love language, basketball, which is how she wins him in the end. But if I was Monica’s friend, I would say you need to move on to someone who values you and prioritizes you. I can’t say I foresee their relationship lasting forever, as Quincy is someone who has been continuously desired by many women his whole life, and I fear he might turn out like his father.
The best love story in this movie is the mother-daughter relationship Monica and her mother, Camille (Alfre Woodard) have with one another. They are opposites, and often clash over Monica’s lack of femininity. Monica wants her mother to support her athletic aspirations, but Camille wants her daughter to act more traditionally female. I find this relationship much more fascinating, and their push and pull is a rarely seen dynamic in these kinds of movies. The relationship between Monica’s parents is one of her mother being subservient to her father. She is a passive participant in their marriage. Monica derides her mother for never standing up for herself, yet Monica is glaringly similar in how she approaches her relationship with Quincy.
The cast of this film is a fantastic who’s who of Black Hollywood at the time. It almost seemed like Hollywood had 10-12 Black actors they would circulate from feature to feature, reassembling who was dating who and who was related to whom. This marks the second feature in less than five years that Omar Epps dates Tyra Banks.
Okay, I will say something about basketball. Seeing Dennis Haysbert’s Zeke (Quincy’s dad) struggle with life post-basketball career, is a very fascinating and under portrayed lot in life. This can be translated to other professions too, like a former actor who was popular when they were young. These athletes retire in their 30’s, with their whole lives ahead of them. It was a refreshingly lesser seen story idea.
It is hard to tell the creator’s intent in telling this love story, whether or not they’re aware of our protagonist’s unhealthy relationship with Quincy. However, love is all around in this movie, and there are many relationships portrayed outside of Monica and Quincy, namely, Quincy and his dad. His father breaks the pedestal Quincy puts him on by being an unfaithful husband. Monica and her mother learn to respect one another, despite their different ideas on how to be a woman. And of course, Monica’s love for basketball, which is who she truly ends up with in the end.
So, Monica...if you’re done reading this, I hope you have seen the light. From a nerd to a jock, don’t settle! I have been in your position before, wanting the one guy who doesn’t give me the time of day. Maybe the second time around he’ll treat you right, and I sure do hope so, but you’re the star now. We all have passions that we’re committed to, and you and me are EXACTLY alike. We’re both stars in our field and careers. Also, we have both ended up a lot like our mothers. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. I just came up with that, please use it.
Marco is a comedian, writer, and underemployed New Yorker trying to make it in this damn world. He enjoys fruitlessly pursuing love on dating apps and keeping track of all of the movies he’s seen on Letterboxd.