In the spirit of award season, Dan Grunfeld hands out unique accolades for some of the funniest basketball scenes from his generation's most formative TV shows. And yes, Urkel makes an appearance.
Amongst the ragtag group of misfits that I call my friends, I used to garner a tremendous amount of respect, mostly due to the fact that I had always been the undisputed king of Saved by the Bell trivia. Growing up, when I wasn't playing basketball, reading books, hanging out with my buddies or eating cereal (obviously), I was most likely watching hilarity ensue on a zany yet heartfelt episode of SBTB. Admittedly, I also spent a fair amount of time playing video games and practicing wrestling moves, but these trifles were nothing compared to the hours I burned entranced by the happenings at Bayside. Over the years, as a result of my ferocious fandom, I became a legitimate monster on the SBTB trivia scene.
Understandably, I took great personal pride in this fact, but alas, my breadth of knowledge was recently surpassed in resounding fashion by my friend Mike. I haven't really watched The Bell much since high school, but Mike has continued to revisit Bayside, year after year, and it has paid off for him. He recently competed with three friends in a sanctioned SBTB trivia tournament for adults in New York City, and due in large part to his ever-expanding and utterly impressive knowledge base, his team, affectionately named "Muffin Sangria Has Crabs," won the entire tournament. This triumph officially validated him as the new SBTB master, a title that I'm happy to pass on to a more deserving man. It should be noted, by the way, that this Mike fellow works in Manhattan and wears a suit to the office everyday. Or, in other words: God Bless America!
Why does all this nonsense matter, you ask? Well, that's easy: because television matters, Shmuck! We fall in love with TV shows, we become entrenched in their various plot lines, and we eventually begin to feel like their fictional characters are actually part of our non-fictional lives. I know this is true for me (and for Mike), and not just with SBTB, but also with the many, many TV shows that I've watched and loved over the years.
While TV has always held a special place in my heart, the main inhabitant of my blood-pumper is the game of basketball, the sport that I currently play professionally. It only makes sense, then, that in the rare instances when I've been lucky enough to behold an overlap of these two passions, magical things have happened. What I mean is that, any time basketball was featured on one of my favorite TV shows while I was younger, I was in heaven.
Because my fiancé recently made me DVR the Golden Globes for her, I'm now aware that it's award season. With that in mind, it seems like the perfect time to look back at some of the best examples of basketball on television from years past in order to hand out some well-deserved and long-overdue hardware. These awards were created, nominated, reviewed, and selected by a panel of one, me, based on my questionable sensibilities as a basketball player and as an avid TV watcher with too much time, too few (normal) friends, and too many satellite channels. Please enjoy!
Award: The Most Overtly Selfish Play in the History of TV Basketball
Winner: Carlton Banks, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Let us not kid ourselves: when Bel Air Academy's backs are against the wall, and when they need a three-pointer to win the game, the ball is going to be in Will Smith's hands. That's as it should be, because not only is he the best player on the team, but he also gets to rock a funky multi-colored smoking jacket to school when all the rest of his loser peers have to wear the lame, standard-issue navy blazer.
Will is special, but in this scene, with the clock winding down, Carlton, his teammate, apparently wants some of that princely shine for himself, and he's not afraid to take it. Last second plays don't always go as diagrammed, but I don't think the Bel Air coach could have anticipated that Carlton would rip the ball away from Will, throw him to the ground, and launch his own potential game-winner, a half-court hook-shot at the buzzer that misses the rim by a mile. Clearly, this play does not demonstrate the highest standard of teamwork and cooperation, and that is why it has earned Carlton this regrettable award.
The sad part is, we should have seen it coming. Sure, Carlton has excellent diction, an impressive array of monotone polo shirts, and the voice and dance moves of a young Tom Jones, but still, do you really think those moderate traits can compete with the total package that is Will Smith? Right. Me neither. And if you throw a festering Napoleon Complex into the equation, something was bound to pop off between the two. Well, on that day, and on that court, something popped off, all right, and it has unfortunately made Carlton Banks a notorious figure in the annals of television basketball.
Award: Most Perplexing and Disappointing Skill Level in the History of TV Basketball
Winner: Jesse Katsopolis, Full House
If you think it gets any cooler than Uncle Jesse, you're downright kidding yourself, and I officially don't like you. He may be of Greek descent, but to me, Jesse Katsopolis is a model American, and I'm not just talking about the smile as white as fresh feta, the kalamata olive eyes, or the friendly demeanor that goes down as smooth as baked baklava.
A quick scan of his credentials immediately confirms his awesomeness at life: he rides a motorcycle, he's played on stage with The Beach Boys, and he's the only guy except for Dwayne Schintzius and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake to make a mullet look cool. Haters be damned, he's the closest thing my generation has to Elvis, thank you very much, so it's no surprise he snagged a legitimate babe like Aunt Becky.
What is a surprise, however, is that Uncle Jesse is freaking horrendous at basketball. This just shouldn't be. A guy that badass should at least be able to knock down a mid-range jumper or run the high pick-and-roll with some degree of competency. Uncle Jesse, though, can't do either of those things. Actually, he can't do anything of substance on the basketball court. Literally, he sucks horrifically, and for a cultural icon like him, that is both perplexing and disappointing, all at the same time.
Truthfully, the one person who should be grateful for Uncle Jesse's basketball ineptitude is actually Danny Tanner. It's bad enough that Danny's jumper in this scene is far from technically sound, but the fact that he's playing a 3-on-3 charity hoops game while wearing a wrist watch is just unforgiveable by any standard, and under different circumstances, he would have drawn some serious ire from the award committee. As it stands now, however, Uncle Jesse takes the crap cake, and for that, I cannot have mercy.
Award: Most Inspirational Underdog Moment in the History of TV Basketball
Winner: Steve Urkel, Family Matters
I'm not proud to admit this, but I'm no Mother Teresa, folks. No, no, it's true, because like you, I wrote off Steve Urkel as a basketball player simply based on aesthetic factors. I was pigheaded. I was unenlightened. I judged the nerdy and annoying book by it's nasally and cheese-loving cover. And even though wearing pants that start at the nipples and stop at the mid-shin is not necessarily a characteristic easily associated with a ballplayer, I should have known better. I have, after all, seen The Mighty Ducks no less than 35 times, so I'm quite aware that anything is possible.
So, when the Vanderbilt High School hoops team suffered a string of improbable injuries that forced Steve to take the floor as the fifth eligible player, it looked very much as if he didn't belong. But, as I now know, looks can be deceiving. And I'll be damned if Steve didn't go out there that night and prove me and all of his other detractors wrong. More importantly, though, in a poignant testament to the power of the human spirit, he showed that even when a guy attaches suspenders to his basketball uniform, he can still bust your ass on the court.
Yes, Urkel can hoop, ya'll, and in an ironic turn, his dorkiness actually adds to his effectiveness. While his gangly body type contributes to Laura Winslow regularly scoffing at his advances, it also provides him with superior length on the floor, a huge advantage at any level. And, let us not forget that Urkel's excellent court vision is greatly enhanced by the fact that he wears industrial strength seeing glasses that literally cover his whole face. If you're open, Urkel will see you, and after spearheading an inspirational comeback in this scene, culminating with a dramatic buzzer-beater, it's no surprise that he took home this special award. Eat your heart out, Waldo Geraldo Faldo.
Award: Most Dominant Guest Performance in a Terribly Acted Scene in the History of TV Basketball
Winner: Kobe Bryant, Hang Time
When you're a bunch of no-good hooligans who have already hustled money from the Hang Time gang in a 3-on-3 hoops game, you probably think the rematch will be a piece of cake, right? Wrong! Because after one of the Hang Timers goes down with a truly gruesome wrist injury (at the 1:15 mark, check it out, it's terrifying), his substitute is no other than a fresh-faced Kobe Bean Bryant.
True to form, Kobe does work on these young scoundrels, helping the Hang Time crew enact some serendipitous revenge and proving that future all-time NBA greats are indeed much better at basketball than random open-gym wanksters. Here's the real question, though: if you're the main villain on the other team, who will henceforth be known as "Random White Guy Wearing Maroon Tank-Top," would you really want to call for an isolation on Kobe the first time you touch the ball? To me, that just seems like a poor choice from the get-go, and sure enough, the step back jumper that Random White Guy Wearing Maroon Tank-Top tries to pull on Kobe is snapped up by The Mamba quicker and more violently than a furry little Hyrax on the plains of the Serengeti.
Also, from an acting standpoint, this scene is tough to watch, thereby making it awesome to watch. I personally think Kobe does a good job, but in general, it's a little rough. And by that I mean it's a lot rough. But even though the dimensions on the court are the most unrealistic ever, and even though the scene clocks in at a painful six minutes, it's worth taking a peek at, at least when Kobe arrives at the 2:35 mark, because like Random White Guy Wearing Maroon Tank-Top's teammate says about Kobe: "He plays for the NBA!" That's good stuff right there, the kind of stuff that will win you meaningless TV accolades at some point in the future.
Award: Most Avoidable Yet Devastating Injury in the History of TV Basketball
Winner: Zack Morris, Saved by the Bell
Anytime the Bayside High School basketball team has an important game coming up, the last guy they can afford to lose is Zack Morris. Aside from being the emotional leader of the team, Zack is also just a heck of a ballplayer. He's a floor general, a warrior, and a marksman, all rolled into one. He can create for others on offense. He shows tremendous intensity on defense. And, most impressively of all, when he calls "timeout" during a game, it's not just the action that stops, but amazingly, the whole world freezes, allowing Zack to make pithy and insightful comments to the camera before resuming the game-and life as we know it-with a casual "time in."
Needless to say, you want this guy out on the floor, and theoretically, you'd do anything in your power to keep him safe. That's why it's inexplicable and inexcusable that Zack suffers a traumatic knee injury in the locker room during the pep talk before the big game. Granted, Tricky Dick Belding delivered one doozy of a motivational speech that amped Zack up in a way that only brick-sized cell phones had before, but still, that is not the way you want to lose your most important player.
Everyone suffers from Zack's injury, including Slater, who is now forced to carry an offensive burden that he's not prepared for. Slater excels on the football field and is a beast on the wrestling mat, but let's be honest, when it comes to basketball, Albert Clifford is nothing more than a role player. If his understanding of interior scoring was half as deep as his dimples, Bayside would have a chance in heck, but it's not, so we're all screwed. At least we can take solace in the fact that Kelly Kapowski will be there to make Zack feel better. And really, unavoidable and devastating injury or not, that's not a bad place to be. Certainly better than this cockamamie and makeshift award ceremony, that's for sure.
In closing, this is by no means a comprehensive list of awards, but The Academy of Me had to be selective, so this is what was decided upon. It should be noted that scenes from The Wonder Years, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, Beverly Hills, 90210, Boy Meets World, and others were also considered, but in the end, I had to go with my gut. Maybe they will be honored at a later date, along with other shows, seeing as TV and basketball are both gifts that keep on giving, except during writer's strikes and lockouts, of course. Either way, television and basketball are both institutions in my life, and I look forward to more instances in which the two can overlap.