Thomas Sheppard Is The Best Fictional Basketball Player Ever

    I love over the edge. his soundtrack is always in the convo for the best black movie soundtrack of all time, and tupac tupac’d the movie. Then you have Leon (he was years old today when I found out his last name was Robinson) showing off another talent of his, a believable jump shot, to go along with his propensity (especially at the time) to morph into various Jamaican singers. track stars turned bobsleighders, gangsters, womanizers, etc. Leon is truly a treasure of African America.

    and nowhere is that displayed more than above the edge, especially in the last 20 minutes. the movie itself is a hoot; Leon plays Thomas Sheppard, a nomadic basketball supertalent who effectively went into hiding after the death of his best friend Nutso’s, a death that Thomas blames himself for.

    His younger brother, birdie (basically tupac playing bishop if he doesn’t die at the end of the game, let’s call him juicier), grew up to be the leader of the neighborhood gang (essentially) who got hit on his shoulder because his older brother, nicknamed shep, left. The main character in the movie is Kyle Lee Watson (played by Duane Martin, one of the few black men in the movies who you can tell actually knows how to play basketball) a standout high school basketball player whose only goal is to play college baseball. at georgetown university, and whose flirtation with birdie almost cost him that opportunity and his life.

    You know, and I’m going to assume you’ve all seen it, what about ’90s high schoolers who don’t learn to get out of the way of bullets? Ricky, an alleged high school standout runner, literally tried to outrun a 12-gauge shotgun at Boyz in the hood, and when Motaw (more on him later, played by Wood Harris) pulls a gun on Kyle at the top end on the edge, he literally stands there with his hands up while literally everyone else around him is trying to dodge.

    Anyway, the film leads to a shootout tournament at the famous Holcombe Rucker Park courts in Harlem, where Kyle, who until then was part of the birdie men’s bird team, which is poised to win, resigns. to join his high school team. the coach has met. the little bird is not happy. His teams, the Bombers (Team Kyle) and the Birdmen (Team Birds, Natch) meet at the Championship Game, which is where the hijinks come to life.

    Look, I don’t know if it’s been a while since I’ve seen it (I just saw it) but it’s like seeing it with a new set of eyes. and I am referring specifically to the basketball tournament scenes that end the film. good sir.

    for starters, and this is the point almost everyone is talking about, shep shows up to play basketball in corduroys. this is after the bomber team is exhausted because the birdmen have literally soiled them to the point of injury. bombers can’t field a team and then shep shows up: he was asked to play by his former coach, now kyle’s coach, who left his name on the roster in case he changed his mind; that’s fucking farsighted, again, in corduroys and a long-sleeved thermal top, and some high-top adidas superstars. he didn’t even stretch. he just walked onto the court and went crazy.

    According to my totally accurate scientific analysis, the score for this game is, say, with 10 minutes remaining on a ticking clock, 74-36, birdmen. bombers are being killed.

    somehow, shep, after being flagrantly fouled at least 3 times, one of which resulted in him going headfirst onto the outdoor court (concussion protocols weren’t a thing there), gets up and goes on a 39-2 run by himself. . he plays defense, gets steals, commits his own flagrant fouls….

    …quick aside: what the hell were the referees there for? I saw at least 20 fouls that were not called. at least. why are there even referees? Birdie actually went to an umpire at one point to call a foul even though his team literally punched niggas in the face on the court.

    Anyway, Shep hangs 39 on them, does the steal and assist to win the game, an alley-oop to Kyle for the game-winning jam. the bombers win 77-76 (on camera the birdmen only scored once, but considering how shep butchered them, I’m assuming he just killed them). this with a ticking clock and it being 5 against 5.

    I don’t remember enjoying it so much before, but on this last watch I was tickled pink. holy shit, he did this in corduroy. imagine if I had better shoes and shorts. he rolled his fingers, hit 3-pointers, some mid-range jumpers, had assists and played defense. I think I’m ready to call this the best fictional basketball performance in a movie. and he played harshly and aggressively. He faced motaw who was a ball player but somehow got benched by kyle? when kyle leaves the birdie team, birdie tells motaw that he is now starting. meanwhile, motaw has handles, dunks and is clearly a good player. that surprised me.

    and here’s the funny part: looking again with different eyes, i saw the most unlikely, the craziest shit that ever could have happened or would have happened in a basketball game.

    shep does this in a game where a birdman player (#52) intercepts a pass under the bombers basket, makes a full court pass… to himself and then dunks it . It’s the most incredible basketball play I’ve ever seen. I had to watch it like 5 times just to make sure I wasn’t making it up, but it happened. an outlet pass was literally thrown to the other end of the floor for the dunk. shep did this against a team that was basically a video game for the entire century!

    I realize I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but if you’re a fan of above the rim (and who isn’t? amirite?), then you’ve probably talked about shep’s performance plenty of times, but wow It was a pleasure to see you. It would only have been more impressive if he had done it using Stacy Adams or Chuck’s.

    thanks to thomas sheppard the goat.

    (see what I did there? because ‘pac… I’ll meet you outside.)

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