Newly appointed men's basketball head coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) from the Texas Western College in El Paso, not having many financial resources to recruit the most coveted high school athletes, decides to find the best players in the country regardless of race to form a team that can compete for a national championship. Some of the young men he and his assistants recruit, from places as far away as Indiana, Michigan and New York, possess a lot of talent, but are very raw when it comes to organized college basketball with its greater focus on defense and ball distribution. In the end, his Texas Western Miners team comprised seven black and five white athletes, a balance that raised eyebrows even at his own university. Haskins puts his players through a very tough training program, threatening to cut anyone who doesn't work as hard as he demands, while trying to integrate his white and black players into a single team with a common goal.
Haskins starts games with three black and two white players and, after initial victories against mediocre local teams, quickly discovers that he has to give his black players more free room on the court. Yet the more victories his team achieves with its flamboyant style, including slam dunks and creative passes until this time rarely seen in college basketball, the more the racial hatred mounts. This culminates in threats to his own family, the beating of a player while on the road and ultimately the ravage of his team's motel rooms by racists while they are at an away game. Increasingly frightened and feeling the burden on their shoulders, the team loses its last game of the regular season after the black players stop playing with passion. Thus the Texas Western Miners finish the 1965-66 regular season with a 23–1 record, entering the 1966 NCAA tournament ranked third in the nation. Going on to the NCAA finals played at College Park, Maryland, they face the top-ranked University of Kentucky under legendary coach Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight). Rupp, with a well-organized and better experienced all-white Wildcats squad firmly believes that his opponent stands no chance. On the eve of the decisive game, Haskins calls his whole team into the empty arena, telling them that he intends to start an all-black lineup in the game, and also only using the two other black players in the rotation. The team reacts surprised, but even the best white players accept his decision as the right thing to do. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, Texas Western faces mounting problems with forward and team captain Harry Flournoy (Mehcad Brooks) leaving the game with a foot injury after just a few minutes of play, and their center in foul trouble. In a close game, the Miners narrowly lead at half time, but finally manage to beat Kentucky 72–65 with some impressive steals, defensive stops and a fast-paced game in the second half. The film ends with the players exiting the plane that brought them back to El Paso to the greeting of a raucous crowd.
In real life
Glory Road was inspired by a true story, as described by Texas Western's head coach Don Haskins in his autobiography of the same title, a national bestseller released in 2005 by Hyperion Books. The book details Haskins' early life as a player (including a one-on-one game against a black friend that opened his eyes) and women's basketball coach. Like the film it then focuses on the 1966 Texas Western men's basketball team and the aftermath of the championship, which is not in the movie version except for some closing lines on what became of the main characters. It was reprinted five times in its first four months of release and was selected as an "Editor's Choice" by the New York Times Book Review. Additionally "Glory Road" is the name of a street on the UTEP campus near the Sun Bowl which was renamed to commemorate the 1966 NCAA championship. Later asked about his decision to start five black players, Haskins downplayed the significance of his decision. "I really didn't think about starting five black guys. I just wanted to put my five best guys on the court. I just wanted to win the game."Though credited with setting in motion the desegregation of college basketball teams in the South, he wrote in his book "I certainly did not expect to be some racial pioneer or change the world." Dunking was banned in the NCAA from 1967 to 1976, not least due to the success of the Texas Western team and a UCLA player named Lew Alcindor (better known later as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) then entering the league. Next to the closing credits, scenes from interviews with some of the real-life players from the team are shown, including one player from the opposing University of Kentucky team beaten by Texas Western in the NCAA finals, NBA head coach Pat Riley. The real life Don Haskins was cast as an extra in the film as a gas station attendant, and David Lattin was cast as an extra as a military bartender.
The players on the 1966 team were David Lattin, Bobby Joe Hill, Willie Cager, Willie Worsley, Jerry Armstrong, Orsten Artis, Nevil Shed, Harry Flournoy, Togo Railey, Louis Baudoin, Dick Myers,and David Palacio. The team was nominated in its entirety for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and was inducted on September 7, 2007, ten years after coach Don Haskins had already been enshrined.
In the game between East Texas State University and Texas Western, East Texas State fans are shown throwing popcorn and drinks, and yelling racial epithets. In a later scene, racial slurs are shown painted onto the hotel rooms of the black Texas Western players. After verification that the events never took place, Texas A&M University–Commerce (formerly East Texas State University) asked for an apology from Disney and the makers of the film. Disney did not directly apologize, rather, it explained that the movie was not a documentary and that it had been necessary to consolidate events given the time limitations of the film, and that Disney did not intentionally set out to misrepresent any group and was sorry for any misunderstanding. The President of Texas A&M–Commerce said that, given the way the school was shown in the film, it was hard to believe that Disney could plausibly argue that the portrayal of the school was unintentional. The scene even prompted the Texas state senate to consider a bill which would allow financial assistance from the state to be withheld for films that portray the state negatively.
- Josh Lucas as Don Haskins
- Derek Luke as Bobby Joe Hill
- Austin Nichols as Jerry Armstrong
- Jon Voight as Adolph Rupp
- Evan Jones as Moe Iba
- Schin A.S. Kerr as David Lattin
- Alphonso McAuley as Orsten Artis
- Alejandro D. Hernandez as David Palacio
- Emily Deschanel as Mary Haskins, wife of Don Haskins
- Mehcad Brooks as Harry Flournoy
- Al Shearer as Nevil Shed
- Randy Livingston as George Peeples (Iowa player)
- Sam Jones III as Willie Worsley
- Damaine Radcliff as Willie Cager
- Tatyana Ali as Bobby Joe Hill's girlfriend
Both Haskins and David Lattin were cast as extras in the film. In addition, Ralph Strangis (the Dallas Stars play-by-play announcer) had a small speaking role as a courtside broadcaster. Ben Affleck was the original choice for the role of coach Don Haskins, but had to drop out of the filming due to prior commitments. Atlanta Hawks point guard Kirk Hinrich was offered a role in the film, but chose not to participate "because of time constraints".
- Directed by James Gartner
- Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
- Written by Chris Cleveland, Bettina Gilois
- Music by Trevor Rabin
- Cinematography Jeffrey L. Kimball
- Editing by John Wright
- Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
- Release date; January 13, 2006
- Running time 118 minutes
- Language English
- Box office $42,938,449
Former University of Southern California coach Tim Floyd was the technical advisor for the basketball scenes in the film. Floyd worked as an assistant under Haskins at UTEP in the 1980s.
Several scenes in this movie were filmed at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), which was formerly Texas Western College, and El Paso High School in El Paso, Texas. Other scenes were filmed at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana, Jesuit High School an Douglas High School, formerly F. T. Nicholls High School, in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Chalmette High School in Chalmette, Louisiana. The IHOP scene was filmed in the old Airline Motors Diner on Airline Highway just west of New Orleans. The school shown for the girl's basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas at the beginning of the film is actually the front of El Paso High School in El Paso, Texas as shown by the engraving on the top of the columns. The lunchroom basketball trashcan scene was filmed at Booker T. Washington High School, the first high school built in New Orleans for African-Americans. In the beginning of the film in the shot of Texas Western College, the Wells Fargo Plaza and the Chase Bank Building in downtown El Paso can be seen in the top left corner. The Wells Fargo Plaza was not completed until 1971 and the Chase Bank Building was still the Texas Commerce Bank building until the early 1990s.
The film won an ESPY Award for Best Sports Movie in 2006. It was nominated at the 2007 Black Reel Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Song ("People Get Ready" by Alicia Keys and Lyfe Jennings) and for a 2006 Humanitas Prize in the Feature Film category.