Disney Somehow Nailed the Hanukkah TV Movie Back in 2003

'Full Court Miracle' is kinda a miracle.

I was the Disney kid as a child. I could sing the entirety of “We’re All in This Together” from High School Musical and I knew all of Miley Stewart’s “The Bone Dance.” Growing up on the network left me with a healthy appreciation for happy endings and cringey one-liners. In my “adult” life, that void could only be filled with more of The Mouse, so I bit the bullet and signed up for Disney+.

As I scrolled through the intense and detailed catalogue of Disney content, I saw a film that I could have sworn was a fever dream: Full Court Miracle. Yes, you know. The not-really-but-basically-Hanukkah film about basketball. Really, it exists.

I don’t recall exactly when I first saw the film. It was probably some early Sunday morning when I turned on Disney Channel expecting a new episode of Wizards of Waverly Place, but instead this movie popped up and I watched the whole thing to see who would win the big basketball tournament. Since then, it wasn’t the cheesy dialogue or the heartfelt words of encouragement from the rabbi that stuck with me, but was the fact that it was Jewish. Really Jewish.

Rarely have I seen Judaism portrayed on television in a genuine way. Typically, it is only a mere mention of a bar mitzvah or an offhanded Yiddish term; never is it a bracha and Jewish Day School.

Except in the case of Full Court Miracle.

The film was made in 2003, so you get a good dose of early aughts style (complete with tiny glasses!). The story centers on Alex Schlotsky (Alex Linz) who is a freshman at the Philadelphia Hebrew Academy and is generally well-liked by everyone, including the school rabbi.

But, his heart is with basketball, not his studies — or his mother’s ambitions for him to become a doctor — and he really wants to win the upcoming basketball tournament that will take place at his school. Enter former college basketball star, Lamont Carr (Richard T. Jones). Lamont helps Alex and the rest of the Hebrew Academy Team train for the tournament. (There is eventually an iconic scene where Lamont goes to the rabbi’s home for Shabbat dinner and tries gefilte fish and loves it.) As this happens, the school’s rabbi wants Alex to realize that in order to succeed, they need to find their own Judah Maccabee.

I’ll let you guess how the film ends.

The movie is typical Disney fodder. There’s the cute kid who has big dreams but some obstacles in his way (his height and an overbearing mother, which, yes, are unfortunate Jewish stereotypes). Overall, Full Court Miracle is fun and silly. But, for the average Jewish kid, it can be a lot more meaningful than that.

Look, I’m privileged to be living in an age when I have top-notch representation in shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but for the Jewish kid who maybe wanted to play basketball in 2003: This was their Rebecca Bunch.

And, like many Jewish Americans, I’m used to hearing Christmas songs during December, seeing Christmas scenes on television and movies, and sort of giving up hope that pop culture will depict Hanukkah in any meaningful way. And that is why Full Court Miracle matters, even now.

full court miracle

The film features a Jewish Day School not too different from the one I attended. The way the rabbi jokes around with the kids all the while dishing out sagely advice is deeply familiar. And Jewish kids being too short for basketball? I definitely know that struggle. I wish I had paid more attention to this film on that bleary Sunday morning. It could have made me more confident as I eventually navigated the halls of secular school, or when I finally decided to embrace my curly hair.

This movie stands out especially now, when networks are still getting Hanukkah content wrong. Full Court Miracle is a true Hanukkah movie: Within the first six minutes, there is a mention of Alex’s excitement of getting a new hard drive for the holiday, and it ends, of course, with the lighting of the menorah.

In a world where Judaism is being tucked away like a Star of David necklace under a shirt, Full Court Miracle is important. It’s not perfect — it’s silly and cheesy and leans into certain stereotypes — but if we’re being honest, it’s a miracle that we have it.

Rachel Bernstein

Rachel is a sophomore at the University of Southern California studying history and narrative structure. However, when not studying, you can find her listening to comedy and watching Jewish-adjacent television. She is a 2019-2020 Alma Ambassador. Send her dog memes and John Mulaney jokes on Twitter.

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