Today marks 20 years since cult comedy BASEketball hit theaters. Directed by The Naked Gun/Airplane‘s David Zucker and starring South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, BASEketball is one of those movies that both captures the time it was released, as well as has aged to increased relevancy when revisited today.
Parker and Stone were asked to star in the film BEFORE South Park. Marinate on that for a bit! Originally, Zucker envisioned BASEketball as a game show, then a mockumentary, then a comedy starring Chris Farley, and finally after years of being in development decided to go with a pair of unknowns. Impressed by Parker and Stone’s work in Troma‘s Cannibal! The Musical, Zucker cast the duo, who would later pitch in jokes during the film’s creation leading to a perfect midpoint of their comedic sensibilities.
The film’s strongest legacy is how savagely it skewered – and actively predicted – the increasingly corporate stranglehold on sports. From the film’s opening on the industry’s decline to the infamous breakdown of the playoffs, from the locker-room to the broadcast booth no calf is left un-slaughtered.
Which brings us to the cast, a hodgepodge of sports stars, 90s icons and faces you may not realize you’ve seen elsewhere. We all know what co-stars Yasmine Bleeth and Jenny McCarthy would later go on to do, as well as the recently deceased Robert Duvall and Academy Award-winner Ernest Borgnine, but how about Trevor Einhorn who played “Little Joey” and would go on to be Frederick Gaylord Crane on Frasier and a memorable scene at the career fair in The Office? Or Cory Oliver who threw the film’s opening shindig as Brittany and appeared in fellow 90s cult classics Chairman of the Board and Dead Man on Campus who recently had an acclaimed resurgence in God’s Not Dead and Beverly Hills Pawn. Even the actor playing little Coop – Justin Chapman – had previously popped up in a memorable moment from Minnesota’s greatest Christmas film Jingle All the Way!
The attitudes that the film’s talent have with the feature has been fun to track over the years. Matt Stone joked in 2009 about what it would take for a BASEketball 2, and Bob Costas has regrets about his infamous “Excited” line.
But, for me, BASEketball holds a special place for being the first R-Rated movie I ever saw in theaters. At that point, it was the single hardest I ever laughed. For the summer right before seventh grade, it’s an ideal exploration of what really defines success, integrity and friendship. Backed by a ska/swing/punk soundtrack that could have only been attached to a Hollywood movie that summer, I recall being one of the film’s early (few) devotees. Buying the official BASEketball Beers shot glass (Long before I knew what a shot glass was used for) and uniform-style long-sleeve baseball tee from the Suncoast at Mall of America, I really thought it was going to be as big of a phenomenon as South Park. While that’s still yet to happen, it found a cult audience on VHS in the states, and in Europe some comedy channels have made a Christmas tradition of annually airing the film.
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20 years ago today #BASEketball – the first R-Rated movie I saw in theaters – was released. Hardest I'd ever laughed at that point in my life. Perfect movie for an incoming seventh grader. Purchased the T-Shirt and a Milwaukee Beers shotglass from Suncoast before I knew what a shotglass was. Wearing the shirt today for the first time since 2003 in observation of #BASEketball20. Last time I wore it, I talked the Christian Brothers at my high school who initially objected as to why a 16-year-old wearing a shirt with "Beers" on it was poignant and an anti-teen drinking message if anything. (They bought it, I didn't get in trouble and got to wear it the entire dress-down day).
Are parts of the film wildly problematic today? Absolutely, and it’s unfortunate (and often largely cut from televised airings of the film today, so if you’ve only caught it on cable you may be gobsmacked) but the sheer rapid-fire barrage of jokes at least move on quickly from most of these elements.
Today, BASEketball remains fun, perhaps more poignant than originally intended, and just about as 1998 as a movie can get.