Basketball and sports in general have always been difficult to portray on the screen. What might make for an accurate play may not be suitable for how television or movies are shot. Fitting an entire basketball contest into a show wouldn’t be possible; it needs to be trimmed down and faked, and even some rules get ignored along the way for the sake of the narrative.
But these narratives have produced what appear to be some spectacular athletes. Ranging from true underdog stories to out-of-this-world talent, there have been some sights to behold, given a generous suspension of disbelief.
Everyone knows the Space Jams, the Teen Wolfs, and the Jim Halperts, but what happens when we dig a little deeper? Who are the most talented yet overlooked basketball talents that have ever existed in the fictional realm? Let’s give them some of their proper due.
Fictional Player #3: Timo Cruz, Richmond High School, Coach Carter
Timo Cruz starts this list off because of one major innovation he gave the basketball world he gets absolutely no credit for the transition three-pointer. The film saw Coach Carter, played by Samuel L. Jackson, turn a group of failing athletes into successful student-athletes. Cruz, played by Rick Gonzalez, was Carter’s most difficult student.
He epitomized all of the obstacles and problems with the team. He lacked discipline, chased stats, and was a poor student, but nevertheless had real athletic ability and talent. Cruz’s story arc represents the growth of the entire Richmond High School basketball team.
Cruz’s shooting a transition three stands juxtaposed to the team’s growth and instead actually points to Carter’s growth while also foreshadowing the evolution of the game. Early in the film, Cruz jacks up a transition three-pointer instead of going for a layup at the basket. At the time, this was largely regarded as a poor shot choice.
Cruz makes the shot, but Carter is clearly not happy. Fast forward to the end of the movie, and Richmond is playing their toughest opponent yet. Everyone is in the huddle, and Carter is giving all the coaching he possibly can, knowing the team needs a run. Remarkably, Carter actually tells Cruz to take the jumper in transition.
This speaks to Carter’s having a real eye for talent and recognizing when that talent can be a difference-maker. He is willing to give a player a little more freedom if it means they can come out on top. And sometimes that’s how basketball works: if the player can make the ball go in the hoop, let them.
In today’s NBA, the transition three-pointer is ubiquitous, almost to a fault in some cases. But players like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard, among others, who can knock them down have free reign to do so. They can make them, so they take them. Was Cruz the great innovator in this? Probably not, but he was an early adopter, to say the least.