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The Underrated Sports Drama You Can Stream On HBO Max

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The early '90s were a great time for basketball movies. Some classics from the era include the star-studded college recruiting drama Blue Chips and the witty streetball comedy White Men Can't Jump. One of the best — and one of the most crowd-pleasing sports movies ever — is Above the Rim, director Jeff Pollack's 1994 drama about a New York City high school basketball phenom caught between the court and the street. The film got mixed reviews from critics on initial release, but it's beloved by audiences for its authenticity, great hip-hop soundtrack, and an electrifying performance by Tupac Shakur. It's currently available to stream on HBO Max.

Above the Rim follows Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin), a promising but temperamental point guard from Harlem who aspires to play college ball at Georgetown. Kyle is pressured by a thug named Birdie (Shakur) to play on his team in an upcoming street basketball tournament. Birdie's brother is Shep (Cool Runnings' Leon Robinson), a new security guard at the high school who used to be a star player but is now a bitter loner who resents the game itself. The coach, Mike Rollins (David Bailey), wants Shep to return to the game, mentor Kyle, and replace him as the coach so he can retire. Kyle finds himself torn between aligning with Birdie or Shep, who represent different paths. But when he defies Birdie, Kyle's life is put in danger.

The cast also includes Marlon Wayans as Kyle's wisecracking friend Bugaloo, The Wire's Wood Harris as Birdie's right-hand man Motaw, Tonya Pinkins as Kyle's mother Mailika, who begins dating Shep, and Bernie Mac as a homeless man in the neighborhood named Flip.

Above the Rim is a '90s basketball classic

Above the Rim has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 53 percent, with reviewers praising the film's charisma and performances but criticizing its formulaic script. "A fine cast and the movie's general energy can't overcome that mix of cliches and technical flaws, which should conspire to prevent any high flying at the box office," Variety's Brian Lowry wrote in 1994.

The low critical score doesn't reflect the fact that audiences have loved the gritty but heartfelt movie ever since it came out, as reflected by its Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 83 percent. People tweet about Above the Rim regularly and often cite it as one of their favorite basketball movies. In particular, people love it for the volatile performance by the rapper and actor Tupac Shakur, one of the most charismatic people of the late 20th century. Culture critic Shea Serrano called it his favorite performance by a musician in any movie.

The movie is also known for its soundtrack, which was produced by Suge Knight and Dr. Dre for the influential West Coast hip-hop label Death Row Records. The movie came out before the escalation of the East Coast/West Coast beef in the mid-'90s, which explains why a New York movie has a Southern California soundtrack. The compilation album reached #1 on Billboard's Top Hip-Hop/R&B Albums and #2 on the Billboard 200 in 1994, led by the success of the classic single "Regulate" by Warren G. and Nate Dogg. The movie features one of 2Pac's most powerful songs, "Pain," which wasn't actually on the soundtrack but is closely associated with the film because of its use in the opening credits.