Blue Chips

Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Blue Chips

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Dedicated college basketball coach Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) has come to the realization that no matter what he does, his team of underdogs at Western University can’t win – at least not without some new talent. After issuing a national search, Pete makes prospective players promises he knows he can’t keep. Though he despises what he has done to get them, the new recruits prove to be worth their weight in gold and the answer to all coach Pete’s prayers. But is it worth it?

Why It’s Essential Viewing: Back in the 1990s, largely thanks to the historic championship run of the Chicago Bulls, basketball was all the rage. A stream of basketball-centric movies clamored for the big screen, and while there are a lot of duds out there among them, Blue Chips and the story of a college coach struggling to balance his passion for the purity of the game, his desire to win, his frustration with losing, and eventually his moral backbone. Oh, and did I mention this movie is directed by The French Connection and The Exorcist filmmaker William Friedkin?

With a script from sports movie screenwriter Ron Shelton (White Men Can’t Jump, Bull Durham), Blue Chips digs into the college sports world, the title referring to athletes, particularly high school players, who are being targeted for drafting or signing by teams at the college level. As the fictional Western University hunts for players to help them out of their losing streak, coach Pete Bell realizes that the world of college basketball is changing around him, and if he really wants to win, it’s going to require him to bend some rules and turn his back on his integrity.

Nick Nolte plays Coach Pete Bell with such passion and ferocity. Though he’s an abrasive force on the court, which comes from the actor’s time shadowing legendary Indiana Hoosiers coach Bobby Knight for the role, he’s also the kind of coach who actually takes the time to care for his players, makes sure they’re doing well in school, and wants the best for anyone who’s on the team. What he doesn’t want is for them to be corrupted by the “friends of the program” who have started to wave their money around in an effort to make the team better, offering all sorts of bribes to entice players.

The cast utilizes real professional basketball players like Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, and Matt Nover as the rising recruits of Western University, lending an authenticity to the film. In fact, it was Hardaway’s work on Blue Chips with O’Neal that led to him being drafted to play with the Man of Steel by the Orlando Magic. Other famous faces from the world of basketball making appearances include Larry Bird, Bob Cousy, Jerry Tarkanian, Matt Painter, Dick Vitale, and even Bobby Knight as himself in the film’s final game.

Blue Chips brings an intensity to the basketball court and the behind-the-scenes dealings that have corrupted the game that only a director like William Friedkin can deliver. Nick Nolte drives this movie with both ferocity and even a bit of charm. And let’s not forget J.T. Walsh as the conniving head of the friends of the program, playing the perfect white collar villain. Though the game itself is not necessarily the star of the movie, this truly is one of the great basketball films of the 1990s.

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