Stanley Sugerman knows what it means to hustle. When he played college basketball, it meant moving fast on the court. Stanley doesn’t spend much time playing anymore, but he still hustles at his job, moving quickly to scout out (and secure) the best talent for the Philadelphia 76ers.
But all that hustle and bustle is catching up to Stanley. Traveling around the globe to find the best basketball players in the world has caused him to miss his daughter’s last nine birthdays. And truth be told, his dream is to coach, not scout.
He nearly catches a break, getting promoted to assistant coach, allowing him to come home every night to help his daughter with her homework and spend quality time with his wife.
Unfortunately, Rex Merrick, the team’s owner, dies just after promoting good ol’ Stan. And Vince, Rex’s ambitious son, thinks Stanley is more valuable as a scout than a coach. And Vince believes that the Sixers are just one player away from being a championship team.
“Find me that missing [player] and I’ll put you back on the bench,” Vince promises.
Feeling defeated but unwilling to back down, Stanley takes him up on the deal. And chance just so happens to bring him to Bo Cruz, a talented young man who, ironically, is a hustler, too: He hustles people for money playing basketball on the streets of Spain.
Stanley is mentored by Rex, who tells him to “never back down.” Stanley takes this message to heart. When the 76ers refuse to draft Bo, Stanley foots the bill to bring Bo to the States himself. He sends a check to Bo’s mother once a week to support her and Bo’s daughter, Lucia. (Bo was the small family’s primary income.) He then trains Bo for upcoming games that will get him recognized by other teams and increase the young man’s chances of getting drafted.
Stanley also takes Bo under his wing from an emotional standpoint. He knows that Bo has always given all of himself for his mother and Lucia. Because of that, Bo’s never really had a chance to pursue his own dreams. (He gave up his first chance to play in the NBA to be present in Lucia’s life.) Stanley steps in as a father figure, providing everything Bo needs so that he can finally pursue his dream of playing professional basketball.
He teaches Bo the motto of “never back down,” training him to ignore the insults of other players in attempts to get in his head and mess up his game. [Spoiler warning] Bo recognizes Stanley’s sacrifices and honors him with a tattoo representative of their father-son bond.
Although Stanley’s job has kept him on the road for much of the last 30 years, he still has a strong relationship with his wife and daughter. His wife encourages him and gives him advice. Stanley pushes his daughter to get her grades up so she can pursue her dreams. And when he learns that his daughter wants to study film, he gives her opportunities to practice and hone her craft.
A player points to the heavens twice after a victory, though no spiritual context is explicitly given.
We learn that Bo’s dad left him and his mom. Then Bo got a girl pregnant when he was 15 (and the couple did not wed). Later, someone makes crude sexual comments about the mother of Bo’s daughter. This same person also falsely implies incest between Bo and his own mother.
Stanley’s friend tries to get him to look at several women in bikinis in Spain (we see one of these ladies without a top in profile). At first, Stanley refuses because he is loyal to his wife, but when his friend finally convinces him, all he sees is a large, older gentleman in a swimsuit. Men often workout shirtless (and a teen girl ogles one).
We see Stanley and his wife lying in bed together (fully clothed). They kiss on occasion. There are a few jokes about sex and masturbation. A man makes a derogatory homosexual comment. Bo is embarrassed when Stanley finds out that he ordered a pornographic film at his hotel. Stanley is embarrassed when his wife explains their daughter’s developing body. Stanley accidentally makes a sexual implication while using a translation app.
Upon arriving in the United States, Bo is flagged at the airport for a five-year-old charge of aggravated assault. Bo explains that he lost his temper with the boyfriend of his daughter’s mother, who wanted custody of Lucia in order to receive a government stipend. Bo’s temper is tested many more times when players try to get in his head by speaking poorly of his family. One of these times, he shoves a man to the floor and nearly hits him in the face.
Stanley explains that when he was playing college ball, he got into a car wreck after drinking and driving. He managed to save his friend from being thrown from the vehicle, but Stanley’s hand was damaged beyond repair, ending his basketball career.
Some basketball players get into fights while playing. (And we hear about an incident where Stanley injured another player and then had to be held back from fighting the man’s teammates.) Someone jokes about a cockfight. A man throws his phone in frustration.
The f-word and s-word are used 30 times each (the former sometimes paired with “mother” and once appearing in a text message). We also hear several uses (some of which are in Spanish) of “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–tard,” “b–ch,” “c–ky,” “d–n,” “h—,” “p-ss,” “p–ck” and “wh-re.” A crass word for breasts is also used frequently. God’s name is abused 16 times (half paired with “d–n” or “d–mit”). Christ’s name is abused another three times.
People drink throughout the film. Stanley discusses an incident where he drove after drinking heavily at a party (which resulted in a bad accident and six months of jailtime). Stanley passes over a potential draftee after learning the athlete smoked marijuana before playing.
Stanley is disrespected by many people in basketball because of how his career ended. Vince in particular insults Stanley’s intuitions by going against his recommendations and slandering Bo in interviews.
Bo often hustles people at basketball. Other people gamble over the outcome of games. Someone speeds in a car.
Some athletes play selfishly. We also hear about a player who consistently missed practices because he thought he was too good for them. Players talk smack.
A basketball player lies about his age to get into the NBA, stating he is 22 (and later, 18) even though he has a son that looks like he is teenager (whom he lies is only 10 years old). (This lie has the additional implication that he became a father at 12 years of age.) Other people lie.
People make jokes about Stanley’s weight and fitness level throughout the film. Some teen girls are rude to their friend’s dad. We hear about childhood bullies.
Stanley and his wife argue after Stanley agrees to let his daughter see an NC-17-rated movie even though she hasn’t completed her homework. Stanley has to be told by his teenage daughter not to be on his phone while driving.
A man urinates in an alley. Someone makes a crude joke about a bad smell.
“Never back down,” Stanley tells Bo. Not in basketball and not in life, he teaches.
Bo hasn’t had an easy life. His dad abandoned him and his mom when he was a kid. He himself became a father at a young age. And his dream of playing professional basketball? It seemed all but gone.
But Stanley sees Bo’s talent and, more importantly, his passion for the sport. Stanley shares that passion himself, which is why he won’t give up on Bo either. Both of their dreams depend upon Bo’s success.
And it’s that spirit, that determination that makes this film inspiring. Two down-on-their-luck guys hustle together to accomplish their goals—and they form a meaningful, lasting bond in the process.
But despite some strong family messages, this is not, in any respect, a family film. F-words dribble out of characters mouths like a basketball on a court. We hear about some pretty violent events from both Bo’s and Stanley’s lives. And then there’s the sexual implications that led to Bo’s fatherhood (not to mention some crude comments made to him by other players).
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.