By Jeff Merron
Special to Page 3
In the opening credits of "Coach Carter," the audience is told that the movie is "Inspired by the life of Ken Carter."
Is this just another Hollywood way of saying, "we're telling the truth, sort of, when it serves our purposes." Or is this the true story of the Richmond (Ca.) High School Oilers 1998-99 season?
Ken Carter, in a news conference at Richmond H.S. just a few weeks ago, gave his take. ""I believe in this movie," he said. "I was there every day of the shoot and worked with the writers and producers."
That should make things accurate, for sure. But Carter added, in what might be considered a cautionary note, "It's a combination of 'Rudy,' 'Stand and Deliver,' 'Lean on me,' 'Hoosiers' and 'Seabiscuit.'"
Uh oh. So, how real is the reel? You decide.
CARTER, CARTER, AND CARTER
In Reel Life: "Coach Carter" is directed by Thomas Carter.
In Reel Life: Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) is introduced to the team. The outgoing coach describes himself as a former Richmond player who still holds the school's scoring, assists, and steals records, was two-sport All American, and got a basketball scholarship to George Mason University.
Carter didn't attend George Mason University. He went to San Francisco State, then Contra Costa College, and finally, for one-and-a-half years, George Fox University, where he did play basketball.
In Reel Life: Carter says to a player, "As of now, you are 'sir.' Sir is a term of respect." Throughout the film, he calls everyone "sir" and "ma'am."
Rush: Hey, Coach!
In Reel Life: Carter wears a sleek suit and tie at all times.
In Reel Life: Carter's son, Damien (Robert Ri'chard), attends St. Francis, and is a player there, but he doesn't get into a preseason exhibition against Richmond, because, his father explains, he's a freshman.
In Reel Life: When Carter accepts the coaching position, he's told he'll be paid a $1,500 stipend for the season.
In Reel Life: Apparently, Richmond has only a varsity squad.
In Reel Life: As the movie begins, Richmond is being crushed in a preseason game against St. Francis, led by Tyrone Crane (Sidney Faison). Crane, interviewed after the game, is billed as "The next Lebron James."
In Reel Life: Carter names plays and defensive schemes after his sisters. The man-to-man pressure defense, for example, is named "Diane."
In Reel Life: Richmond is invited to compete in the Bay Hill Holiday Tournament. They make it to the finals. Down by 6 with 1:20 to play, Damien makes a three-pointer, dishes an assist, steals the ball and makes another three, then drives for the winning bucket at the buzzer, to give the Oilers a 79-78 win.
In Reel Life: In Richmond's first game after the lockout, they beat Arlington, 82-68.
In Reel Life: After the preseason game against St. Francis, Richmond doesn't lose another game, and there's no mention of any losses.
In Real Life: Richmond faces top-ranked St. Francis in the first round of the state tournament. The Oilers play a great game, but lose 70-69 on a St. Francis buzzer-beater.
In Reel Life: The team is locked out in January 1999, during the same season Carter takes over as coach.
In Real Life: Carter began coaching the team in 1997. The lockout began on Jan. 4, 1999.
In Reel Life: The Oilers are undefeated 16-0 -- when the lockout begins.
In Reel Life: Principal Garrison (Denise Dowse) strongly opposes the lockout.
Foust-Whitmore wasn't too pleased with being portrayed as the naysayer in the film. "It was explained to me that in Hollywood there's always forces of good and evil," Foust told John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times. "I said, 'Doggone it, do I have to be the evil one?' These kids are going to believe every word they see on the screen."
In Reel Life: The lockout issue is discussed at a school board meeting. Parents rail at Carter, and one says, "I move that we remove Carter as head basketball coach." A board member responds that the board doesn't have that authority, but can vote to end lockout. The vote is 4-2 in favor of ending it. Carter quits.
But there was some disagreement, especially with the way Carter went about doing things. He didn't call parents first, for example. Pam Walker Fletcher, the mother of starting forward Christopher Gibson, said, "My son supports his coach, but I just don't agree with the way he is doing it. The parents of those kids should have been right up there with him at that press conference (which followed the lockout), backing him up." And at least one board member did believe the lockout should have been discussed with the board prior to being implemented.
But there's no evidence that a vote to end the lockout was discussed or taken by the school board, or that Carter threatened to quit.
In Reel Life: After the lockout, the Richmond campus is flooded by journalists and Carter is interviewed on national TV and radio.
In Reel Life: There's no mention of how other teams -- opponents who might be affected by cancelled games -- reacted to the lockout.
Ocean View High coach Jim Harris said, "To me, it was disrespectful to his opponents."
In Reel Life: The players quickly improve their attitudes, attendance, and grades, and are back playing in about a week.
COACH CARTER'S REPUTATION AND LEGACY
In Reel Life: The players clearly respect Carter, and several times in the movie it's made clear that they want to play for him so badly that they'll run thousands of suicides and do hundreds of pushups for the opportunity.
In Real Life: "A lot of guys didn't want to play for him," Courtney Anderson, the Oakland Raiders tight end, told John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times. "It wasn't because he was a hard coach. It was more his ego."
In Reel Life: The players continue to do very well academically. Problem pretty much solved.
In Reel Life: Throughout the film, a common theme in Carter's seemingly endless speeches is the importance of getting good grades in order to get into college. At the end of the movie, it's noted that five players went on to get college scholarships and six went on to college. And that Carter's son, Damien, went to the U.S. Military Academy.
But against long odds, many players did go on to college. Wayne Oliver, who graduated in 1999, went to Cameron University in Oklahoma. Two other players, the L.A. Times noted in 2001, were going to U.C. Berkley and UNLV. And Damien did attend West Point, but left after a year or two to go to school on the West Coast.