Hoosiers is the first sports movie I remember loving.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a small town high school boys basketball team in Indiana that won the state championship in 1954. Wikipedia claims it is loosely based on a true story, for what it’s worth. It was released in 1986 and I must have first seen it around then. But that’s not when I was moved to tears watching it.
1992 was my first trip to China (you can read about four lessons I learned that summer written last year in honor of ‘our’ 20th anniversary). I was part of a teaching summer program that brought Chinese junior and senior middle school teachers together for six weeks of intensive oral English in the morning, methodology in the afternoon, and many evenings filled with activities. Friday nights were reserved for American movies.
A. very. big. deal. at. that. time.
Darkness came, the VCR was plugged in, and several hundred of us sat on uncomfortable folding chairs until the movie started and we were transported as only a good story can and then all was forgotten (or at least mostly forgotten, did I mention the heat?).
Sitting under a host of ceiling fans in the large auditorium it was impossible to cool down enough to avoid sweating. But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter I say. Why? Because there was basketball and teams and wins and loses and nail biting and hard work and beautiful scenery and room for the underdog.
And I cried because I was in China loving America in a way that surprised me. I’ve always loved America (and I hope you’ve always loved your home country). It’s not perfect, but it’s mine. That summer I fell in love with China so hard it hurt and I’ve never quite recovered.
But Hoosiers, Hoosiers will always be special because it allowed me the freedom to love two places without choosing. You know me and the messy middle! Maybe it started to be articulated there, in that dark room, with the whirl of ceiling fans, surrounded by a culture and students I was falling for hard, watching a slice of America where enough conflicting pieces came together and I decided to hold all of them in tension.
I love you America and basketball and watermelon in China and ceiling fans (though, truth be told, I love AC more, thank you Connie Cafe‘ the only place in the entire city with AC) and China and I don’t have to choose. Loving one didn’t mean I was turning my back on the other.
Now, why 42 reasons I love sports movies? Because I went with my sister and bro-in-law to see 42 about Jackie Robinson and during the movie whispered to my sister, “I LOVE sports movies!” and it flashed me back to that sticky magical moment in China.
Next week I’ll share a bit about WHY I love sports movies and 10 sports movies I like. I’ve come a long way, but my love affair started on a hot summer night in a land that also loves sports.
What’s your favorite genre of movie? What helped you to see your country through fresh eyes?