FIRST QUARTER… early ’80s
The title Love and Basketball (LAB) is appropriate for this film; it’s about the deep love of two people and a deep love for basketball. The film chronicles the love story of two neighbors: Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps). The movie opens up with 11-year-old Monica moving in next door to Quincy “Q” in Baldwin Hills, CA. Monica joins a pick-up game with Q and his two friends. First words out Quincy’s mouth, “Girls can’t play no ball,” and Monica’s response is, “I ball better than you.” This becomes the theme of what will continue to be a conflict with both characters: Monica’s attitude and need to defend the pressures associated with being a female baller, and Quincy’s privileged idealism of being a baller, and son of an NBA player.
The film establishes all the characters and family dynamics within the first 10 minutes. I will stop and reiterate that most romantic comedies/dramas are similar; people meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. What makes movies unique (especially black films) are the nostalgic factors such as identifying with characters, the music, and exposure to black culture. There are many examples throughout the movie. What stands out the most to me is the music, and the scene where Monica’s sister, Kerry (Monica Calhoun), is combing Monica’s hair. That is something I often did for my siblings growing up; “greasing scalps,” and “oiling” hair has always been prevalent in black culture. The music is authentic in mirroring the trials and tribulations of the actors. The song Candy Girl by New Edition is blasting in the background as they start their pick-up game.
During the pick-up game, Quincy pushes Monica and gives her a permanent scar on her face. Throughout the movie, Monica’s mom, Camille (Alfre Woodard), expresses her disdain of Monica “acting like a boy.” But her father, Nathan (Harry J. Lenix), clearly encourages Monica, having no problem with her androgynous behavior. While Quincy is writing an apology letter, his mother, Nona (Debbi Morgan), is arguing with his father, Zeke (Dennis Haybert), for always being gone. The next morning Quincy asks Monica to be his girlfriend; they kiss for five seconds, but then break up because she wants to ride her own bike. There are also a plethora of actresses and actors in LAB that later became popular in black films: Jason (Boris Kodjoe), Lena (Regina Hall), and Shawness (Gabrielle Union) to name a few.
SECOND QUARTER… mid/late ’80s
This quarter features Monica and Q in high school. Although Monica and Quincy appear to have a love/hate relationship, there are a few distinct moments where they show their affection for each other. One: they attend each other’s ball games. Monica is captain of her team but is often in trouble for her “attitude,” while Q’s behavior on the court is acceptable because he is a male baller. The difference of treatment is demonstrated with the music throughout the movie. Quincy is a star player, and his games often have songs like Kool Moe Dee’s I Go to Work, while Monica’s “music” is her inner voice talking herself down. There is a strong bond between Monica and Quincy and their fathers, demonstrated by their advice and attendance to all of their games.
Two: Quincy leaves his house and climbs into Monica’s bedroom window because his parents are fighting (about an affair). This is clearly a regular occurrence, because Monica throws him a pillow and blanket and goes back to sleep. Monica takes her mother and sister’s advice to take a date, and “dress like a girl” for the Spring Dance. Several important things happen the night of the dance: Quincy and Monica are unable to keep their eyes off each other, they find out that they will both be attending USC (Zeke’s Alma mater), they kiss, and they make love for the first time. When they make love it is very tender and passionate. It’s sweet the way they take off their own clothes, shock and shyness on their faces as they see each other naked for the first time, while Maxwell’s This Woman’s Work plays in the background.
THIRD QUARTER… late ’80s/early ’90s
The third quarter is about Monica and Quincy’s trials of being in love, playing ball, their first-year college experiences, and family troubles. Their bond and love appear to be strong until Quincy’s father has an affair and it crumbles the structure of Quincy’s existence. Quincy clings to Monica while she is trying to maintain her spot on the team, expecting her to sacrifice her game for him. The stress throws Quincy’s game off, but Monica gets her chance to shine.
There is an intimate scene that shows a very sexy basketball game in the dorm room, where they “play for clothes.” This scene shows their sexual maturity with their bodies and each other. Shortly after, Quincy chooses to drop out of school to play pro, against his father’s wishes. It was painful to watch the pain in Monica’s eyes as Quincy discarded college, his father, and their relationship because he was entering the draft and he was “going through some shit.”
FOURTH QUARTER… 5 years later
In the final quarter, Monica and Quincy are adults. The final quarter signifies the healing of relationships. Quincy is playing pro basketball for the Lakers, and has been estranged from Monica and his father for five years. He’s also engaged to Kyra (Tyra Banks). Q tears his ACL and Zeke visits the hospital, but Quincy sheds resentful tears and refuses to look at him. Monica is playing professional basketball in Spain, but moves back to California and visits Q in the hospital. They have an awkward conversation about Monica “still trying” to be the first girl in the NBA.
Monica gets a job at her father’s bank, but is still restless. Monica and her mother finally get to the root of their problems. They later have a conversation where they both understand and respect their differences. Two weeks before Q gets married, Monica climbs out of her window and tells Quincy that she has loved him since she was 11 and that “…it won’t go away.” The most touching scene in the movie is when Monica tells Quincy that she will play him for his heart. The scene slows up to Meshell Ndegeocello’s Fool of Me playing in the background. The scene is so achingly sexy. Monica tears up when Q sinks the 5th (and final) point, making them both losers. But then he says, “Double or nothing,” and she kisses him so passionately. The tears in their eyes as they tightly embrace kept me emotionally invested until the end. The last scene shows Monica as a mother and a wife, playing for the WNBA. Monica is number thirty-two, the same number she wrote on her shoes when she was 11 years old.
Important to note:
This movie makes you appreciate women’s struggle in sports, and in life generally. The female characters struggle on and off the court with each other. LAB sheds light on the different expectations for male and female athletes and this is just an extension of an already deep cut.