What is up, my fellow Laser Timers? I’d like to welcome everyone to a new segment, full of all the random hip hop films I grew up watching. If you’re questioning my movie street cred, check it: I grew up about an hour from LA, so I have area code cred. Also went to a live taping of Soul Train back in 1999, so please respect.
Now that my credentials are in order, let’s get this thing started. The year was 1994, people were watching the new hit medical drama E.R., and the top films of the year were Lion King, Forrest Gump, and True Lies. But a little basketball drama starring then-unknown-but-future-MTV-reality-star Eric Niese, Leon “pre-Cliffhanger” Robinson, Tupac Shakur, Bernie Mac, that camera guy from from Scary movie Duane Martin, and future Wire alum Wood Harris. Yup, I’m talking about Above the Rim, y’all!
Above the Rim is a coming-of-age tale about high school basketball star Kyle Lee Watson, who reminds me a lot of Kobe Bryant in hindsight: both had mad court game, but neither knew how to pass the rock. Kyle is in his senior year, trying to impress a Georgetown college scout to get a full ride basketball scholarship. But of course, the streets have other plans for him. Insert side plot involving former basketball star Shep, who one fateful night bet his best friend in a “hops” contest that unfortunately took place on top of a building (I’m not sure what building commission thought it was a good idea to place a basketball court on top of a ten story building without a fence around it, but just go with it). When friend “Nutsoooo!” made a legit 40-inch vertical leap and slapped the backboard, it broke, thus causing Nutso to fall to his death. Shep left town in grief.
Kyle has mad skills, but a lack of passing and a major case of showboating result in his teammates not caring much, ending with a meltdown in front of the Georgetown scout. Lucky for Kyle, Shep has returned home and gotten a job as a security guard at the school. Of course, there is an unnecessary romance between Shep and Kyle’s mom, with Shep becoming a mentor to the young baller despite his former basketball star-induced “PTSD.”
Through an M. Night Shyamalan-worthy plot twist, we learn that local drug dealer Birdie is also Shep’s brother and local bum Flip is a former teammate of Shep’s. Oh yeah, Marlon Wayans is in this too, and plays Kyle’s dopey but lovable sidekick. In classic movie fashion, Shep sees two guys playing basketball in the park, triggering yet another “basketball PTSD” moment. He decides to go to the tournament and play for his old coach.
And of course, the final match is Birdie’s team versus Kyle’s. When Birdie loses, he does what all poor loosing drug dealers do: has his right hand man Motaw pull a “Nina,” taking out Kyle. Luckily, Shep steps in front of the bullet and ends up getting shot instead, then Motaw gets taken out by an off-duty cop in probably the weakest shootout in film. Cut to Birdie getting taken out by Marlon Wayans in an anti-climatic scene. Cut away again, to a shot of Kyle sinking the winning shot for Georgetown, and guess what? Shep survived the shooting and is watching the game at a local bar with Kyle’s mom, who I guess would have to date him since he truly “took one for the team.”
So in the end, Kyle made it to Georgetown and finally learned to spread his fingers while snapping his wrist (Shep’s secret to sinking jumpers from the three-point line). I still have my fingers crossed that Shep becomes a playable character in the inevitable return of NBA Street. Get on that, EA!
Newcomers should note that this movie is anchored by its incredible soundtrack, the hottest cassette tape you could own in its time. I still remember listening to it on my Sony Walkman before YMCA summer league basketball games — that and Will Smith’s “Big Willie Style,” because I always do it big. The recurring theme is Tupac’s “Pain,” sporting a legitimate Wrath of Kahn sample. Bet you didn’t know Tupac was a trekkie.
Article by contributor Moan4Stallone.