Sanaa Lathan Had to Train 5 Hours a Day Before Landing Her ‘Love and Basketball’ Role

The great thing about artistic outlets such as movies, music, and TV shows is that they can change the world. When it comes to sports movies that have changed the world, several popular movies come to mind for most people. The Blindside and White Men Can’t Jump just to name some of the more well-known ones.

But one of the lesser known sports movies that had as big of an impact as all those better-known ones was Love and Basketball, which starred Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. Here’s a look back at this iconic basketball movie and all the hard work that Lathan had to go through for her role.

A quick overview of ‘Love and Basketball’

Sanaa Lathan
Sanaa Lathan | Jim Spellman/Getty Images

This is one of those movies that really can be summed up by its title, but it’s also much more than that. As the BBC wrote, Lathan played the character of Monica Wright, who was a young black girl who wanted to pursue her dreams. She loved basketball, and she was good at it too, so it wasn’t long before she befriended Quincy McCall, played by Epps, who was her neighbor and also a basketball player.

They’ve maintained their friendship through the years, but Quincy doubted that Monica could play basketball professionally like he would. They both played ball in high school and in college, and it was during this time that their friendship turned into something serious. But of course, they had a falling out as both were more focused on their careers than on each other.

A few years later, Quincy is engaged to someone else and playing in the NBA, while Monica is working at a bank. But, love always wins, and in a climactic one-on-one game, even though Quincy won the game, he chose to dump his partner and spend his life with Monica instead. And of course, since this was a romantic movie, Monica achieved her dreams of playing professionally in the WNBA. 

Sanaa Lathan didn’t know how to play basketball

Given how much basketball playing that Lathan would have to do for the role, you’d think that she would have some experience beforehand. But no, as she told CBS, she had never played basketball before she got the role. In fact, she felt as if she was the director’s last choice for the role. That’s because the studio wanted a real basketball player for the role, but apparently, they couldn’t find one.

Lathan said that the director would audition real basketball players and give them acting coaches, but none were good enough. Despite getting sidelined by the director, she kept auditioning. After a while, she just demanded that she get basketball coaches to teach her how to play basketball.

The director brought in an assistant coach from the LA Sparks to train her. They trained for five hours a day and she had to train with professional basketball players. This extra effort paid off and she got the role, which allowed her to make the movie that we know and love today.

The impact of ‘Love and Basketball’

As the BBC wrote, ‘Love and Basketball’ had a big impact on many people, especially on the young girls who grew up watching it. Issa Rae, for example, said that ‘Love and Basketball’ was what inspired her to work in Hollywood.

This movie didn’t just inspire girls either, it also inspired boys. The director of the movie, Gina Prince-Bythewood, told the BBC that a 17-year old boy sent her a card saying that the movie, “Taught me how to love.” 

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. 20-years later, ‘Love and Basketball’ remains a classic sports movie that can inspire and entertain.