When Blue Chips made its way to theaters in February of 1994, casual fans of college basketball may not have been as fully aware as they are today of some of the underhanded seediness that goes on during the recruiting process. But the movie’s screenplay by Ron Shelton – who had previously written Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump – attempted to shine a light on the Catch-22 that college coaches often face: If you don’t win, you’re fired. But in order to keep up with the coaches who are winning, you may have to bend the rules. Just don’t get caught, or again, you’re probably going to get fired.
That was the central conflict facing head coach Pete Bell of the fictional Western University Dolphins, played brilliantly by Nick Nolte. As far as he knew, in his long and decorated coaching career, Bell had never broken the rules by paying for players in order to secure their commitments. Then again, he also never had to. But desperate people do desperate things, and with his team no longer winning, his situation was framed in a way that made it seem like he had no other choice.
Looking back, Nolte was the absolute pitch-perfect actor to portray the movie’s conflicted basketball coach. He not only looked the part – according to the film’s DVD, he prepared for the role by shadowing coach Bobby Knight for a year during Indiana’s 1992 season – but he also featured the scratchy voice that’s typical of most men who make their living barking out orders to impressionable young adults from the sidelines of a basketball court.
As for the rest of the cast, it was rounded out by a handful of wonderful character actors, as well as a who’s who of famous basketball names within the circles of both the NCAA and NBA (each of whom displayed varying degrees of acting ability). Let’s check in on what some of them have been up to since the movie’s release 22 years ago in honor of co-star Shaquille O’Neal’s 43rd birthday on Sunday.