Pete Bell: You took the purest thing in your life and corrupted it, for what? For what?
The movie BLUE CHIPS came out in 1994, during the height of basketball popularity. It came out the year after Michael Jordan abruptly retired from the NBA, just after winning his third straight championship. Mens college basketball was also huge, especially the rivalry between Duke and North Carolina. The coaches themselves were some of the most iconic and recognizable faces in basketball during this time. Several of these real life coaches and players appear in this film.
BLUE CHIPS is about Pete Bell (NICK NOLTE), coach of the Western University mens basketball team, nicknamed the Dolphins. The Dolphins were once a winning, successful team, but have fallen on hard times. A losing streak and inability to bring in top recruits has made the Dolphins mediocre. The pressure is on for coach Bell to bring in talented players and get the basketball program back on track. The problem is that the other colleges are illegally luring in recruits with gifts and money.
Happy (JT WALSH) is a booster that already has a shady past, and offers to help illegally bring in recruits to make his old school a winner again. Ed (ED ONEIL) is the sports writer who thinks something funny is going on with coach Bell and his recent recruits. Jenny Bell (MARY MCDONNELL) is Pete’s ex-wife, who is still close to Pete, and they probably still love each other. She helps him by tutoring one new recruit, Butch McRae (AFERNEE “PENNY” HARDAWAY), who is academically ineligible to play, and has only agrees to play if his mother is found a job and bought a house.
Neon (SHAQUILLE ONEAL) is the other high profile character we meet. He has raw talent, but doesn’t want to put in the hard work. This is seems to echo his real life NBA career, as he never really achieves the level of greatness that he seemed capable of.
In the movie, you can’t help but feel sorry for the position that coach Bell is in, and although you don’t want him to choose the dark path of bribery, it does seem like the only way to keep up with the other crooked colleges. NOLTE is great as coach Bell. His stern, gruff demeanor are in line of what a basketball coaches seems like. The fact that NOLTE shadowed Indiana Hoosiers coach BOBBY KNIGHT, makes sense, as they both seem to be a bit aggressive and hot-headed. NOLTE even kicks a basketball into the crowd when arguing with a referee.
The reason this film works is in great cast, and great directing by legendary WILLIAM FRIEDKIN (The Exorcist, The French Connection, Cruising). He wouldn’t seem to come to mind to direct a sports film, but consider that the movie is not really a sports movie, but a movie about conscious and consequences, which path to choose. There is no “big game” scene, such as in Teen Wolf, but the outcome is about all about the cost of winning.
Ironic that this movie is about corruption and gambling when it speculated that Michael “Air” Jordan’s retirement was partially due to his gambling addiction, and the murder of his father. These themes of gambling and fathers play into Blue Chips. The movie would be a great double feature with the 1974 movie THE GAMBLER, starring JAMES CAAN. If you’ve seen the movie, you will understand why.
Sports corruption has always been around, from boxing to golf. This movie works because corruption of college players, basketball and football especially, has always been alleged. News will occasionally tell us about a former college player who was connected to bribes and such corruption as this movie portrays.
The movie’s only failing is in casting real NBA players as the college recruits. They are completely flat, and are not convincing at all. They are on the same level as when Joe Montana hosted Saturday Night Live. I can’t help but think it was the movie studio that pushed for the use of real players. They almost make the movie unbearable when they are on screen. This does cannot be said of ex-Celtic star, BOB COUSY who is really good as the school’s athletic director.
Obviously SHAQUILLE ONEAL starred in a few other films after this, with the same level of acting. Something that will haunt him, and seems to overshadow his basketball accomplishments. Anyone still have a copy of SHAQ FU for the Super Nintendo?
See BLUE CHIPS, and enjoy the real drama of the characters as wonderfully portrayed (not the modern day NBA players though). It’s a excellent depiction of the real corruption that is still prevalent in todays modern sports. It’s a shame that NOLTE’s performance seems to have been completely forgotten as this movie was marketed as a sports movie “starring” SHAQ and PENNY HARDAWAY, real life teammates on the Orlando Magic. Revisit this movie, now that the horrible NBA hype doesn’t overshadow the real stars, NICK NOLTE and WILLIAM FRIEDKIN.
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Ron Shelton