Coach Carter – Richmond Oilers Basketball Team
The movie Coach Carter is a 2005 film based on the 1998-1999 basketball season of the Richmond High School Oilers in Richmond, California, and the actions of the team’s coach, Ken Carter, to enrich the lives of his players. Carter made national headlines when during an undefeated season he locked out his players from practicing or playing games until they improved their failing grades. Carter’s coaching philosophy, which concentrated on shaping his players as people more than athletes, received praise nationwide but criticism within the community.
Coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) is a local sporting goods store owner who accepts a low-paying offer to coach the Oilers basketball team at Richmond High School, where Carter had been a stand-out athlete in his youth and held several school records. The high school is in a crime-ridden area and has such a high dropout rate that many of its students, including the basketball team members, see criminal activity as the only way of life. When Carter discovers how disrespectful the students are, he decides to implement strict discipline. They are required to address everyone – Carter, each other, and their teachers – as “sir” or “ma’m;” attend all their classes and sit in the front row; wear dress shirts, jackets, and ties during school hours on gameday; and, most importantly, maintain a 2.3 GPA. Carter insists that his players must agree to all of these stipulations by signing contracts, which causes several students to walk off the team, including Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez), who has an altercation with Carter. To support his father, Carter’s son Damien (Robert Andrew Richard) leaves his private school to attend Richmond in order to play on the team though it is against his father’s wishes.
On the basketball court, Carter teaches the players a disciplined style of play that relies more on teamwork than showboating. While the players are initially unhappy with Carter’s rules regulating both their on and off court behavior, the team starts an undefeated streak that proves the wisdom of Carter’s methods. Cruz later approaches Carter about rejoining the team, and Carter tests Cruz’s commitment by ordering him to do a grueling number of exercises. Though Cruz’s efforts fall short, Carter is impressed when the team offers to make up the difference and Cruz is allowed on the team.
Feeling empowered by the undefeated streak, many of the players become cocky and stop adhering to Carter’s rules. Carter also discovers from his student’s progress reports that several have not maintain the required C+ average. He decides to lock the doors to the gym with a padlock and chain and announces that the team will not play until their grades improve. Controversially, this forces Richmond to forfeit two games, which snaps the undefeated streaks and causes tension in the community. Cruz also quits the team for a second time.
While the students are working with tutors in the library to improve their grades, the school board has a heated meeting and votes to end the lockout with the only dissenting votes cast by Principal Garrison (Debuse Drowd) and the Chairwoman of the Board. Carter becomes infuriated with the community’s support of basketball over education and intends on quitting coaching the team. However, when he discovers that his players are sitting at desks in the unlocked gym still working with their teachers to improve their grades Carter decides to continue as coach. The players insist that they will not play until their grades reach Carter’s standards, with Damien telling his father, “We’ve decided we’re going to finish what you’ve started, sir.” Shortly afterward Cruz rejoins the team after seeing his drug-dealing cousin shot down in the streets and realizing that he wants to avoid a similar fate in his life.
Once the team meets the academic expectations of their contracts, the Oilers return to playing games and continue their dominating success on the court. The team reaches the regional high school playoffs and faces St. Francis (the private school that Carter’s son left) in the opening round. It is the most intense and competitive game of the Oilers’ season, and in the final seconds Richmond is leading St. Francis 68-67. However, a St. Francis player makes a 2 point shot with no time left on the clock and St. Francis wins 69-68.
Though the Oilers are disappointed with their loss, Carter gathers the team and tells them that they should be proud, saying “I came to coach basketball players, and you became students. I came to teach boys, and you became men. And for that, I thank you.” The film ends with title cards explaining that six of the players attended college, five of whom received scholarships, including Damien Carter, who eventually broke several of his father’s school records and later attended West Point.
Contributing author: Chris McKittrick
Coach Carter – Real Life, Reel Differences
- The real-life Ken Carter was extremely supportive of the film and praised its veracity, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that “98.5 percent of what you see is true to my own life and what happened to me. Pretty much the biggest change was simply the names of the players and the teachers, because we didn’t want to embarrass anyone.”
- However, some of Carter’s players disputed the facts of the movie, particularly regarding the negative portrayal of the personalities of the players pre-lockout. One of Carter’s former players, Kao Saechao, told The Daily Californian, “I like to tell everyone that the movie is probably 50 percent true and 50 percent Hollywood. The characters were falsely portrayed. Coach Carter himself was embellished.” Senior team co-captain Chris Gibson expressed similar sentiment to the Contra Costa Times, saying, “The movie is like, if he didn’t show up, we could have been dead or doing drugs.” Even the school’s junior varsity and freshman basketball coach under Carter during the events depicted in the movie, Darryl Robinson, disputed the truth of the film and said to The Daily Californian, “Hollywood missed it by a country mile. The kids buying drugs and shooting people, that never happened. The kids were a good group to begin with, there were no troublemakers, there was none of that.”
- Perhaps the most significant change is that the film only depicts Richmond as having a varsity basketball team though in actuality the school also has junior varsity and freshman teams (45 players total), which Carter also coached.
- The film indicates that Coach Carter was a two-sport All American and that he received a basketball scholarship to George Mason University. However, Carter attended three colleges – San Francisco State, Contra Costa College, and George Fox University – but never George Mason. Furthermore, the film depicts Carter as becoming the coach at the beginning of the 1998-1999 season though Carter actually began coaching the Richmond team in 1997.
- The movie inaccurately portrays the team’s scores and record numerous times. In the film, the lockout begins when the team is 16-0, though in reality the team’s record was 13-0. In the first game after the lockout, the movie team beat Arlington 82-68, while the real-life team beat St. Elizabeth High School 61-51 in their first game back. The actual team ended the season with a 19-5 record (including two losses shortly after the lockout), but the film does not mention these losses. Finally, in the film the season ends with Richmond losing to St. Francis in the first round of the state tournament, but Richmond actually lost in the second round of the district playoffs.
- In real-life the school principal, Principal Haidee Foust-Whitmore, was supportive of Carter’s decision to lockout his players in order for them to improve their grades. In contrast, the movie’s principal, Principal Garrison, is against the lockout, though she eventually unsuccessfully votes to keep it. Foust-Whitmore was unhappy with the depiction of the principal and later told the Contra Costa Times, “It was explained to me that in Hollywood there’s always forces of good and evil. 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.” There was also no school board vote to end the lockout, and by extension Carter did not threaten to quit if the vote ended the lockout since there never was a vote, though he did receive extensive criticism within the community.
- The movie depicts Carter actually locking out the players from the gym by putting a padlock on the doors to the gym for the duration of the lockout. In reality, Carter did not actually do that for an entire week because that would prevent other sports from using the gym and from Physical Education classes from being held.
- In real-life, Carter had another lockout on February 11, 1999 because some players were not attending the tutoring sessions. Throughout the rest of the season Carter also benched players for poor academic performance. In fact, the games that the team lost post-lockout (which are not mentioned in the movie) were likely a direct result of strong players being benched. In the movie, there is no reference to any player doing poorly academically after the lockout ends.
- In one of the most notable movie mistakes, a character in the movie refers to a player as “The next LeBron James.” The film is set in 1998-1999 when James was an Ohio 8th grader and hardly a nationally-known player, nor would it have made sense for a player actually older than James to be described as “the next LeBron James.”
Where Are They Now?
Ken Carter continued to coach at Richmond until 2002, when he parlayed his national fame from the lockout story into new business and coaching opportunities. He made headlines again in November 2000 when he rode a kick-scooter from Richmond High School to the California State Capitol in Sacramento in order to raise awareness about school funding issues. Before the release of the movie, Carter coached Rumble, a Slamball team. Slamball is version of basketball involving trampolines. Under Carter, Rumble won the 2002 Slamball Championship. Earlier in 2002 he was selected by the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee to carry the Olympic Torch through the San Francisco Bay Area.
Today, Carter works primarily as an in-demand motivational speaker. He also established the Coach Ken Carter Foundation. According to Carter’s website, the Foundation’s mission is “to assist youth by providing guidance and instruction in personal development, academics and athletics to improve socio-economic conditions for them and their neighborhoods.” He has penned several motivational books including Yes Ma’am, No Sir: The 12 Essential Steps for Success in Life, which was released in 2012, and created several motivational DVDs, which he sells on his website.
In 2009, Carter announced that he was opening a boarding school for boys called The Coach Carter Impact Academy in Marlin, Texas, where he now resides. The school was scheduled to be opened in Fall 2013, however the Academy’s website is nonfunctioning and it appears that the school has yet to open.
Carter also has a presence in on the internet and in social media, but it is unclear how active he is. Carter’s website (www.coachcarter.com) has not been updated since June 2013, and his Twitter account (@CoachKCarter) and Facebook accounts are infrequently updated.
The following is a 2-part documentary where Coach Carter and members of the team react to the true story as well as scenes depicted in the movie.
Since most of the players in the film are composite characters of the actual players, the players in the movie are not accurate depictions of the real Richmond team. However, several of Carter’s players from the 1998-1999 season went on to gain notoriety of their own:
- Courtney Anderson became an NFL tight end and played for the Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons from 2004-2007.
- Chris Gibson attended Tulane and became a New Orleans businessman, while another 1999 graduate, Wayne Oliver, went to Cameron University and later played basketball in semi-professional and international leagues.
- Two other players, Marvin Miranda and Kao Saechao, attended UC Berkeley, and another, Lionel Arnold, attended and played football at Humboldt State.
- Damien Carter – The movie ends with a title card about that says, “Upon graduation, he received a scholarship to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.” What the movie doesn’t mention is that Damien later transferred to a college in California. The “About Damien” section on the Coach Carter website provides no updates on Damien past attending West Point in Fall 2001.
Overall, every student who played for Carter from 1997 to 2002 graduated from Richmond, which otherwise has a high dropout rate. Additionally, all 45 players from the 1998-1999 season, including those who had the failing averages that had prompted the lockout, attended four-year universities or community colleges.