clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Liberty Ballers at the Movies: "The 6th Man" Starring Marlon Wayans

New, comments

Join us at the movies as Marlon Wayans and his ghost brother lead Spencer Hawes' alma mater on a historic National Championship run in the under appreciated 1997 basketball film, "The 6th Man".

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

This isn't a love letter to Aaron McKie. This isn't a prediction what award Jerami Grant will win this upcoming season. This isn't a memoir of my journey to eventually replace Zayn Malik in One Direction. I think three examples of teasing you guys with what this isn't is enough. What I can say it is, however, is the fourth installment in the Pullitzer Prize nominated series "Liberty Ballers at the Movies". Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, after a year and a half wait, we proudly serve you an in-depth look at another piece of basketball cinema, "The 6th Man".

What a lot of people don't know is "The 6th Man" exists in the same cinematic universe as another basketball film which never quite made it to production. That's right, the long anticipated, highly controversial "The 3rd Guard: The Sherron Collins Story" never saw the light of day. The script was finished, the director was on location, the entire cast even had their lunch orders in. What actually caused the downfall? We'll never know. But the rumors start with Adrien Grenier organizing a mutiny after several of his scenes as big man Sasha Kaun were inexplicably removed from the script as filming was set to begin.

Back to the lecture at hand (perfection is perfected so Imma let Roy understand), we've got a film to dissect. Marlon Wayans was no stranger to the basketball cinema world, playing the often berated Bugaloo in the classic "Above the Rim" just three years prior. Forced to play a supporting role and never seeing actual court time, it was time for Wayans to shine as the lead. In 1994 he was James Harden on the Thunder. In 1997, he had got his Harden on the Rockets opportunity.

The film immediately gets off to a phenomenal start as the opening credits are set to Doug E. Fresh's "Superstitions". We fade in on crunch time of a youth-league game featuring Antoine and Kenny Tyler. Just a mere thirty seconds into the movie and we're already being taught a lesson, this one courtesy of their father James. "Don't swat the ball into the parking lot." Fatherly advice that will passed down for generations to come.

With the ball and down one, James Tyler calls Kenny's number to get the game winner. Lacking any sort of confidence, Kenny deliberates whether to shoot the wide open lay-up for a good five seconds before deferring to Antoine who uses an array of approximately thirty-two spin moves to weave his way to the basket, only to have his shot attempt miss off the front iron. Heartbreak at the community center is the worst kind.

It is at this moment we get our first of two pieces of inspiration advice meant figuratively, but taken literally. Coach Dad approaches Kenny and tells him that if he and his brother stick together, anything can happen (inspiration for Kevin Garnett's "Anything is Possible" I'm sure).

We move ahead to the brothers competing in college as the stars of the 1996 Washington Huskies. As we are a de facto Huskies blog (Tony Wroten, Justin Holiday, and uhhhhh, Spencer Hawes), this film is far more important to us than we could have ever imagined.

The Huskies come out of a timeout against the University of Arizona with their trademarked huddle chant, "Dogs Up - Woof, Woof, Woof!". Stop everything right there. Now, I'm not sure if the actual Huskies squads perform the same chant or if it was an artistic creation for the movie, but it must be stopped. Off the top of my head, this clearly ranks at the bottom of the three animal inspired rally cheers in sports cinema history

  1. Mighty Ducks - "Quack, quack, quack..."
  2. GloboGym Purple Cobras - I'm not sure how to type a snake noise but you get it
  3. Washington Huskies - My dogs all bark like woof

With dreams of a national championship alive and well, Antoine suffers a heart attack as he finishes an alley-oop from his brother against UCLA, later dying on the way to the hospital. Kenny was always the Andre Iguodala to the Antoine's Steph Curry; a statsheet filler who didn't get the fame and glory that went to the team's best player. With Antoine gone, all the pressure moved on to Kenny's shoulders and much like Iguodala's time in Philadelphia, that type of player can't be the focus of a championship team.

Amidst a losing streak following Antoine's death, our second figurative turned literal inspirational makes its way into the picture, this time from Coach Pederson; "You don't have to play without your brother, you know."

Following Coach's unknowing premonition, funny and peculiar events happen at the Huskies next game. The ball magically leaves Kenny's hands and finds a wide open teammate under the basket for an easy two when Kenny wasn't even in a position where it'd be physically possible to make that pass. With the clock expiring and the Huskies down one, Kenny throws a half court chest pass to a fellow teammate in transition, only to see the ball take an unprecedented, magic bullet like trajectory into the hoop for the win. This was not inspired by true events.

With Antoine's ghost now helping out the team and Kenny being the only one who can see him, it becomes Angels in the Outfiled but less J.P. (Tokoto?) and more Dick Vitale. Antoine continues to orchestrate these outlandish occurrences during games, all leading to a Huskies win streak, leading them to an NCAA tournament bid.

The topic that's never addressed, but which we should all be questioning is what seed were the Huskies given by the selection committee? To figure this out, we have to look at the path they took to the Final Four. The Huskies, in order, eliminated Fresno State (no Paul George so doesn't count), Arkansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. We also need to consider that before Antoine's death, the Huskies were at the top of the Pac-10. Right off the bat, the announcers say their win over Fresno State was an upset. Since they're a major conference school and had some quality wins in their resume, that can only mean they were 9, 10, 11, or 12. I'm going to assume Kentucky was a 1-seed since this movie was filmed during their run as national champions. Since it took until the Elite Eight to play them, we can eliminate 9 and 12 from the possibilities.

With Arkansas being their second game followed by a matchup with North Carolina, the decision of whether to label the Huskies as the 10 or 11 seed comes down to who you feel would have been better between those two opponents that year. If you remember, this is when Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, and Shammond Williams ran Chapel Hill. That fact alone means they were definitely the 2-seed and Arkansas the 3. Through my logical reasoning and detective like attention to unimportant details, we can all come to an agreement that the Kenny and sorta Antoine Tyler led Washington Huskies were without a doubt the 11-seed for this tournament.

What happens during the tournament is not nearly as important as figuring out where their place in the original bracket was. The team, predictably enough, gets fed up with Antoine helping them and they want to win it on their own. Antoine gets upset, wanting to be a part of all the glory a national championship would bring to him in heaven, I guess.

Without the help of their all-star poltergeist, Kenny and friends met UMASS in the National Championship game. Just like the events in "The Waterboy", our protagonists went into halftime being blown out by the competition. Instead of Bobby Boucher coming to the rescue, this time it was Kenny providing a tear-inducing speech about how they can still play with Antoine, but in the figurative notion Coach mentioned right after Antoine's death.

Cue the 13-0 run to start the half, the hook shot three pointer from Zigi (the obligatory tall, dumb white center seen in every comedy-ish basketball flick), and the Huskies are right back in it. It's almost like it was scripted.

Side bar; Zigi-like characters from 90s basketball movies ranked:

  1. Ivan taking a charge, "Eddie"
  2. Zigi and his headband
  3. Shawn Bradley, "Space Jam"

Down one, fifteen seconds left, Husky ball, it looks like they're about to take the game and title back to Spokane. But out of nowhere, UMASS creates a turnover and is dribbling out the clock. This, right here, is my biggest issue with the movie. You're down one, nine seconds left, without the ball, and you don't foul? Who was the basketball advisor on this film? Such an oversight on his/her end. Sure it leads to Kenny grabbing a steal with five seconds to go but it came out of sheer stupidity on the filmmaker's end. Unforgiveable if you ask me. You didn't.

All nonsense aside, Kenny does get the big time takeaway and heaves a shot just passed the halfcourt line. Antoine appears from the stands and is about to assist it in the net when Kenny screams "Antoine, NOO!!!". If they're going to win, Kenny wants it done without outside help. And as luck would have it, he gets the shooter's roll and they become, from what I've deduced, the lowest seed to ever win a National Championship. Spencer Hawes American flag bandanas all-around, kids! Let's celebrate!

Is the movie abusrd? Absolutely. Does it cross off just about every cliché you would hope to find in a sports flick? You know it does. It's mediocre yet effective at what it's trying to do. And isn't that everything being a 6th Man is all about?