Full-Court Miracle–a 2003 Disney Channel Original Movie set against the backdrop of Chanukah–marks its 20th anniversary.
When Judah was asked by his companions, “How can we, few as we are, fight back against so great of a multitude?” Judah replied, “It’s not the size of our army, it is the strength of our faith.” – Rabbi Lewis (R.H. Thomson)
It’s a sad world we live in where there are so few Chanukah movies. Sure, it’s not the biggest Jewish holiday but still. Hallmark has been doing their best in recent years to make actual Chanukah movies rather than making Xmas movies in disguise. We were extremely lucky to get Menorah in the Middle last year when it was licensed to Hulu. Of course, there’s the brilliant satire, The Hebrew Hammer, that turned 20 years old earlier this year. But anyway, today is about celebrating the 20th anniversary of Full-Court Miracle. And yes, I feel old just writing it. I probably watched the film during the weekend in which it first aired on the Disney Channel.
It saddens me to know that Lamont Carr (Richard T. Jones) is not around for the anniversary. Sadly, he passed away in 2017. While he went onto do multiple things after graduating from the University of Virginia, his coaching a team of Jewish basketball players would lead to a Disney Channel Original Movie. For this, Jews around the world are forever grateful. Just me? Okay.
Alex “Schlots” Schlotsky (Alex D. Linz) plays for his school’s basketball team. The problem is that they’re not good and need to find their own Judah Maccabee to pave the way for a miracle. They might not find Judah per say but they do find a down-on-his-luck basketball player in Lamont Carr. Carr starts coaching the team in the park and after meeting with Schlots’ family and administrators, he gets the actual job. Before we know it, the Lions are a serious contender for the Liberty Tournament, which is being played on their home court. As the Lions luck would have it, Lamont gets signed by the Philadelphia 76ers and they must fend for themselves against the rival Warriors.
It doesn’t look good during the championship game. Down by 18, the Lions badly need a miracle to come their way. After alluding to Judah throughout the film, they have another problem on their hands. The power is out and the emergency generator only has enough fuel to last 2:44 before running out. What could possibly happen? First, the Lions call a time out and then the Warriors call a timeout that lasts way longer than necessary to run out of fuel. Oh, right, the fuel miraculously lasts long enough for the Lions to make the winning basket and defeat the Warriors. It feels like such a sports movie cliché but sure enough, it happens.
While the Philadelphia Hebrew Academy is the setting in the film, it is a fictional school. Unless something has changed, the P.H.A. Lions do not exist in real life. Hell, you can see the CN Tower and Rogers Centre on full display in the background. Moreover, there are scenes that take place by water that looks way too large to be the Delaware River! In fact, an accurate film would have kept the Boca Raton, Fla. setting since that’s where Carr coached a Jewish day school basketball team. Regardless, I’m still taking whatever Chanukah movies I can get. It’s probably both this and the nostalgia that account for my rating the film as high as I do despite its flaws. I grew up watching DCOMs so there’s a lot of nostalgia in that regard.
I’m pretty forgiving for just how characters feel like archetypes rather than being better developed. There’s a trio of such characters in Rabbi Lewis, Mrs. Klein (Sheila McCarthy), and Schlots’ mother, Cynthia Schlotsky (Linda Kash). Again, it was 2003 when I first watched the film and there were not many Chanukah movies during this formidable time in my life. We didn’t have an Adam Sandler song with a list of Chanukah movies! However, I’m less forgiving when they use language that would never be spoken at a yeshiva. We use B.C.E (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) when it comes to the Gregorian calendar.
Full-Court Miracle is the best Chanukah sports movie but there’s not much else in terms of competition. There are barely 15 million Jews in the world with half of the Jewish population living in Israel. Regardless, it’s very easy to feel left out during this time of the year because of a lack of meaningful Chanukah content. That’s not to say anything about the rest of the year, which features no shortage of Jewish holidays but so few holiday-centered films targeting Jewish audiences.
DIRECTOR: Stuart Gillard
SCREENWRITERS: Joel Silverman and Joel Kauffman & Donald C. Yost
CAST: Alex D. Linz, R.H. Thomson, Sean Marquette, Jase Blankfort, Erik Knudsen, David Sazant, Linda Kash, Jason Blicker, Cassie Steele, Jerome Williams, with Sheila McCarthy and Richard T. Jones