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Hoop it up.
It’s not easy to find basketball movies you’ve actually heard of on Netflix. Think of all the most popular films on basketball—Hoosiers, Space Jam, Blue Chips, and Hoop Dreams. None of them are on the streaming service (though they are available if you have a DVD subscription). Good news, though. Netflix has plenty of other basketball films for you to experience. You might not be totally familiar with some of these movies, but watching them might give you an even greater appreciation for the sport.
The best basketball movies on Netflix
1) At All Costs
If you want to understand what high-level amateur basketball is all about and how that translates into potential college stardom and NBA riches, this 2016 documentary lays out all the behind-the-scenes highs and lows. The filmmakers focus on AAU (Athletic Amateur Union) basketball, as they follow the players and their parents who hope to make it big (and the shoe companies that are looking to profit).The documentary shows the one factor that’s behind the entire amateur basketball enterprise. As Fox Sports wrote, “The documentary is quite telling of the business, and as you find out, money reigns supreme.”
2) Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot
Dirk Nowitzki, one of the greatest players of his generation who recently announced that he plans to play in the NBA for a few more years, was the subject of this 2014 documentary. Instead of focusing on all the accolades Nowitzki has racked up for the Dallas Mavericks during his 19-year career, this film follows his early career when he was being tutored by German basketball legend Holger Geschwindner. If you’re looking for any kind of negativity surrounding Nowitzki, you’re probably not going to find it in this film. As RogerEbert.com notes, the film is “charming, light hour and forty-five minutes with just enough eccentricity to justify its being essentially a puff piece.”
3) The Hollywood Shorties
Beginning in the 1950s and rising to a peak of popularity in the 1980s, the Hollywood Shorties were a basketball team made up of character actors who also happened to be dwarves. As the film description notes, “the team began simply as a rare outlet for little people to gather publicly [but] as the team’s athletic skill increased, so did its membership and so too its popularity.” This 2016 documentary explores the rise and fall of the team and how its players used comedy and basketball skills to showcase little people as something other than “objects of curiosity.” This film stars Tony Cox (Bad Santa; Me, Myself, and Irene) and Martin Klebba (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales; Scrubs).
4) Brotherly Love
This 2015 drama uses the backdrop of basketball to tell the story of high school star Sergio Taylor who struggles to grapple with his fame as his family begins to falter after the death of his father. Starring Keke Palmer, Romeo Miller, and Macy Gray, the film didn’t get great reviews when it was released and it didn’t make much money, but there are a few positive reasons to watching. According to blackfilm.com, “this ensemble film brings in enough elements from comedy to drama that it becomes a moving, enjoyable treat highlighted by surprising performances.
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He’s one of the best point guards in NBA history, but for those who are unfamiliar, Allen Iverson has quite a backstory. He grew up in poverty in Virginia, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was convicted of a felony stemming from a bowling alley fight at the age of 17 (his term was eventually granted clemency by Virginia’s governor). He managed to become an 11-time NBA All-Star, and in this 2014 Showtime documentary, Iverson tells much of his story himself. Along with plenty of highlights from his career, the film shows the impact Iverson had on the league with his basketball talents, the way he wore his clothes, and the tattoos he displayed. And yes, the movie talks about the “practice?!?” rant that might be the most famous press conference moment in sports history.
6) More Than a Game
LeBron James has often said he’s “just a kid from Akron.” This 2008 captures the future “King” of basketball when that was actually true. More Than a Game follows James and four of his AAU teammates—Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton, and Willi McGee—and their coach, Dru Joyce II, as their team starts making national headlines. With incredible home footage, highlight reels, and one-on-one interviews, this basketball doc is essential viewing not just for James’ fans but for anyone who loves the game.
7) One in a Billion
This is the story of Satnam Singh Bhamara, a 7-foot-2 basketball prospect who was brought to the U.S. to try to become the first India-born player in the NBA. This 2016 documentary features NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and it takes Bhamara from the rural village of Balloke to the NBA Draft in New York. “Satnam’s story is certainly his own,” producer Michael Ratner told Sporting News. “Satnam, he gets it. And he got it as a 15-year-old. His family was, not dependent on him, but in his mind, he had to do it for his family, had to do it for his village, had to do it for his coaches in India and Ludhiana who taught him the sport, for all of India.”
What do you get when you cross Jim Belushi, NBA star Kevin Durant, and the clichéd older-person-switches-bodies-with-a-younger-person movie trope? You get Thunderstruck, a 2012 family comedy that shows what would happen if Durant’s elite talent suddenly got transferred to an unathletic high school student who suddenly becomes his school’s star player.
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Writer-director Ryan Koo’s Amateur is a Blue Chips for the Instagram generation, following a basketball prodigy, Terron, as he navigates the seedy world of amateur hoops. Koo crams a TV show season’s worth of ideas into his 96-minute feature, trying to make Amateur a mentor-mentee story, a cautionary tale, and a rags-to-riches story all at once. But condensing the story takes the air out of the ball, and what’s left feels like a jumble of narrative threads that don’t cohere. If any player were as predictable as Amateur, they would get their shot sent into the stands mercilessly. —Eddie Strait
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and comedy specials when you really need to laugh.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.