A slam-dunk sports doc for competitive kids.
Here’s the thing about the 2005 basketball doc The Heart of the Game (Paramount+), which follows the Roosevelt Rough Riders girls team in their battle for the Washington State championship and is narrated by Ludacris: I haven’t seen it! But our kids, an almost-11-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy, watched it this morning while I cranked through some work—and reported a massive win! I’ll leave the rest to them.
The Bigger Picture, 37: What’s The Heart of the Game about? No spoilers, please.
LB, almost-11: This coach joins the team and teaches the girls who doubt themselves how to really play ball. This one girl, Darnellia Russell (pictured), is the star player.
HB, 15: Yeah, none of the girls’ sports in the history of the school have been good. The coach focuses on building good chemistry in the team. It’s not so much about winning. One quote he says is—
LB: “I’m not—”
HB: No, it’s, “I don’t care about winning—”
LB: “Or losing!”
HB: “…but it’s fun when you do win!”
TBP: That quote really stuck with both of you.
LB: There’s another thing I want to say: It also shows how strong women can be—how strong African-American women can be and also all of the women. Because Darnellia…
HB: She works through a lot of hardships.
LB: Yeah, a lot of hardships. She got pregnant…
HB: And she had bad grades. But she had the baby, she stayed in school, and she got her grades up enough to go to college and play basketball.
TBP: HB, you have been playing basketball for five years now, and LB, you have two years of hoops under your belt. Did you learn any moves from this movie?
LB: That you can really knock people down if you try.
TBP: Come again?
HB: Every year the coach has a theme—like, one year they were a pack of wolves...like, aggressive. They learned how to knock each other over and stuff. And one of the themes was that even if you think a player’s not that good, they can surprise you if you give them a chance. There was a girl who had only played three games...
LB: No, only 7 minutes!
HB: …who’d only played 7 minutes, but she got some good shots in the end.
TBP: Anything else interesting about the coach?
HB: His name is Bill Ressler. He is a tax professor and has three daughters.
LB: He is really tough. They have one cheer where he goes, “Sink teeth!” And the team goes, “Draw blood!”
TBP: Wow! Have you ever drawn blood in a game, LB?
LB: I’m a defensive person, but I’m not so defensive that I butt into people and make them fall over. I’d be, like, apologizing if I did.
TBP: Do you and the main character, Darnellia, have anything in common, LB?
HB: They’re both hard workers and motivated not to give up.
LB: That’s true. I am.
TBP: You’ve both played on teams that were coached by your dad, TBP contributor James Burnett. Is he similar to the coach from the movie?
LB: Not really. Dad’s tough, but he doesn’t teach us to knock people’s heads off.
HB: A little bit in that he doesn’t only want to win, he wants us all to form chemistry and to grow and learn. He cares about the players.
LB: That’s true. But this guy will make you do laps all the time, and Dad’s not tough like that. Then again, I’m only 10.
TBP: Is Coach Burnett worthy of a movie?
HB: Probably not. Maybe if he coached a high school team, not a rec team.
LB: Oh, I think so! It would be an interesting documentary because he also has a hard job back at home—being a dad, a husband, and a cat dad. So unique! Something no one has ever seen.
TBP: Would you guys want to coach your own kids’ teams one day?
LB: I’d be a better referee. I know all the stuff to yell out when a ball goes out of bounds, when there’s a foul. I always yell the calls because I always notice them.
TBP: Are there any basketball movies that you like better than The Heart of the Game?
HB: Probably not. This was really inspiring.
TBP: What about High School Musical? That involves hoops.
LB: I do love High School Musical, but it doesn’t include enough basketball to count.
TBP: Is this movie appropriate for kids?
LB: I’d say 8 and up. There are a few cuss words, but an 8-year-old can handle it.
HB: Huh? What cuss words?
LB: Just the S-H-word.
LB: When they lose games.
HB: Yeah, well, I don’t think anyone under 8 would find it that interesting anyway.
TBP: Do you need to understand basketball to enjoy it?
LB: It’s also a life documentary, so I don’t think so.
HB: There’s a lot of basketball, so you might want to know the basics.
LB: But it’s also about life!
TBP: Does anyone in the movie remind you of me?
HB: There’s this one girl who comes off the bench and scores a couple of layups and rebounds, which is something you could do.
TBP: Hm. Okay.
LB: You also remind me of the coach because you’re so hard-core about basketball.
HB: And maybe Darnellia’s mom because she really gets into cheering for the team.
TBP: Did you know this movie was made before you were born?
LB: Yes, it’s got such bad graphics, you can tell.
HB: Also it talked a lot about the history of women’s basketball, and how when they made the movie it had only recently become really popular. Before, girls who played basketball had to wear dresses.
TBP: Did you know that when I played basketball in the 1990s we wore dresses?
HB: Actually? Well, yeah, I could just tell.
TBP: No, not actually. Of course we wore shorts! I’m your stepmom, not your great-grandmom.
LB: Rachel! Don’t mess with us! I also knew the movie was old because they had a flip phone and an old-timey computer.
HB: And the long shorts on the players. Now people roll up their shorts; 5-inch inseams are the new popular thing. Show a little thigh...
TBP: On that note, let’s wrap this up. Any final thoughts?
LB: Can I spoil the entire movie?