It incites madness during March.
It makes teenagers drop out of college after only one year to become millionaires.
And it can make for a really complicated father-son dynamic.
The new indie flick Wolves reminded us of just that. The movie follows the same age-old tale of a high school baller trying to get recruited to college while his father—this time played by demon-battling journeyman Michael Shannon—manages to gamble away the kid’s tuition money, turns to booze instead of fessing up and is otherwise a shitty paterfamilias. He’s not the first, nor will he be the last, in a long line of fathers in basketball movies who just can’t help but make their preternaturally gifted spawn’s life harder than it has to be.
But is he the worst of ’em? Let’s find out.
The Dad: Lee Keller
The Movie: Wolves
Why He Was So Bad: He squanders the tuition fund behind his wife and son’s backs on a few sure bets that don’t pan out. There’s not even enough money left for the kid’s second semester of senior year at his private high school now. So college is only an option on a full-ride basketball scholarship—which means his kid’s entire basketball career is now on the line. Plus, there are bookies and the school’s comptroller shaking him down. He takes up the bottle to cope. All of which heaps more and more pressure on his son, who’s about to crack under the microscope of college recruiters.
Does That Make Him the Worst: For a relative newcomer, this guy is already in the conversation for worst. The booze, the gambling, the lies. All of it directly affects and is directly connected to his son’s well-being and success. He’s almost the worst, but guess what, there are worse. We’ll get there.
The Dad: Shooter Flatch
The Movie: Hoosiers
Why He Was So Bad: Dennis Hopper plays the washed-up basketball dad whose glory days are behind him, but it still haunts him that he never made anything of himself. The potent cocktail of disappointment, frustration and small-town malaise turns him into the village drunk. Everyone still likes him, though, because he was the hometown hero—they all still call him “Shooter,” so you know he was legit—and they give him a job as an assistant coach for his alma mater, Hickory High, where his son is the current star. He keeps straight for a while, but falls off the wagon, and it’s obvious that it’s embarrassing and worrying to his son and a distraction to the team. They get him some help and put him in a hospital where he can listen to the team’s games on the radio while on the mend. Things seem to be looking up for him by the end of the movie.
Does That Make Him the Worst: Definitely not. Alcoholism is a terrible thing, and you can tell his heart is in the right place even if he seems uneasy vicariously reliving his squandered potential through his son.
The Dad: Air Bud
The Movie: Air Buddies
Why He Was So Bad: After an unprecedented run of mastering basketball (Air Bud), football (Air Bud: Golden Receiver), soccer (Air Bud: World Pup), baseball (Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch) and, finally, volleyball (Air Bud Spikes Back), Air Bud has finally decided to settle down with Molly and they have a litter of Buddies. Or not. Air Bud immediately abandons his pups to go play some b-ball. He then gets himself kidnapped. Then he somehow gets his pups kidnapped. All are taken to wine country to become the pets of an eccentric rich person who likes wine and celebrity-athlete dogs. Air Bud manages to escape and rescue everyone, but not without incident: his son Budderball gets dunked in a wine barrel and becomes visibly drunk.
Does That Make Him the Worst: He’s a dog, so he’s already working at a disadvantage, but it seems like he was trying to do his best with those rascally pups. Not the worst.
The Dad: Ricky Roe’s Dad
The Movie: Blue Chips
Why He Was So Bad: He was complicit in NCAA recruiting fraud by accepting a tractor for his farm in return for making sure his son signed a letter of intent to play for a college team coached by Nick Nolte. Later in the season, old “Honest Nolte” decides to come clean during a postgame press conference. The school gets sanctioned big time and Ricky’s basketball career is left in limbo. Over a damn tractor.
Does That Make Him the Worst: Not really. You feel for these families and kids playing for zero return when the NCAA rakes in truckloads of cash. That said, when you know there’s a potential payday after college that can buy you hundreds of tractors, maybe just ride the old tractor for a couple more years.
The Dad: Zeke McCall
The Movie: Love & Basketball
Why He Was So Bad: A former NBA player with a penchant for womanizing and staying out late—even while married with a young son at home. Naturally, the marriage falls apart. He continues to womanize and really likes to play loud music at night while he has women over. All of this takes a toll on his son, who has trouble sleeping through the loud nighttime music and has spent his whole life under the pressure of living up to the NBA expectations of his father’s name. As a father, he seems less interested in his son for who he is than how he is a reflection of himself.
Does That Make Him the Worst: Just on a general fathering level, he’s not doing so hot. But in this rarefied air of terrible basketball-centric life stewardship, Zeke is as middling as his NBA career was. Not the worst.
The Dad: Harold Howard
The Movie: Teen Wolf
Why He Was So Bad: Here’s the thing with Double-H: he was actually a pretty damn good dad on paper. But then he was really hard on his kid about turning into a wolf—a power he also possessed but seemed to be ashamed of, so he shamed his kid about it, too. He doesn’t let his son play basketball as the wolf, which I guess was part of a larger life lesson, but that was just harsh.
Does That Make Him the Worst: On the plus side, you give your son the great gift of shape-shifting and superhuman powers that are oddly very conducive to winning basketball games in a barrage of layups. There were so many layups in this franchise that I can’t believe there isn’t a Euro-step-like layup move that’s been dubbed “the Teen Wolf step.” Let’s fix that, basketball-step namers. Anyway, Harold’s a good dude-wolf in a really weird situation, so we can’t call him the worst.
The Dad: Jake Shuttlesworth
The Movie: He Got Game
Why He Was So Bad: First, he named his son Jesus, which was a constant sore spot for the kid growing up. Oh, and he accidentally murdered Jesus’s mother during a late-night argument that got a little rough at home. He gets sent to jail, and Jesus is left without a mother or father at a young age. Then he suddenly returns from jail to convince Jesus, who has now become the greatest high school recruit in the country, to sign a letter of intent for the college basketball team his prison warden roots for (because he’ll get his sentence shortened). Which is a real catch-22 for a kid left parentless his entire adolescence. Jake’s also a real ballbuster for a guy who really has no upper hand in this situation. You’d think he’d give Jesus a break, but no.
Does That Make Him the Worst: Um, yeah. This is all real bad. It’s murdering-your-wife-and-orphaning-your-kid bad. Also, he’s never that nice to Jesus even when they’re around each other, even though you think he might want to be for multiple reasons. So he’s the worst. But also, because he’s Denzel Washington, he’s the best.