Josh Lucas really didn't want to be there.
He has a theory -- well, maybe it's a belief. Better said, a philosophy. He does not like talking to the media about a movie unless that media person has seen the movie they are supposed to discuss.
So when he entered the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago to participate in the Game Night on "Glory Road," he had one question for the publicist: "Have the people doing this seen the movie?" ("Glory Road" is being released by Disney, the parent company of ESPN.)
Josh Lucas, Jerry Bruckheimer and former Texas Western players take in a "Glory Road" Game Night (video)
Her answer: "No."
Knowing ahead of time that I had yet to see the movie, Josh came to the card table salty. The look on his face: "Why are we doing this?" The read on his face had "company policy" written all over it. So when Josh walked into room 412, he was as diplomatic as the character he played in "Sweet Home Alabama" when he met Patrick Dempsey. Cool. But he didn't know that I knew what was going on in his mind. He didn't know that I agreed with his philosophy.
I shook his hand.
The "Glory Road" Game Night was the perfect vehicle to have an open discussion about not only the movie, but the lifeline of race and sports with five of the actors who portrayed the pioneers on the historic 1966 Texas Western basketball team, two of the people who literally went through it, and one person who paid to have the story told on screen.
The game: blackjack. From left to right: former Texas Western player and member of the 1966 NCAA championship squad Harry Flournoy; "Glory Road" producer and Hollywood royalty Jerry Bruckheimer; Lucas (who plays the movie's central figure, coach Don Haskins); Mehcad Brooks of "Desperate Housewives" fame (he plays Flournoy); Antwone Fisher himself; Derek Luke (who plays the late, great Bobby Joe Hill); the ghetto icon Hits, aka Al Shearer (who plays Nevil Shed); Game Night host and ESPN Mag editor LZ Granderson; and another member of the Texas Western squad, the classic Nevil Shed.
For one hour we discussed the movie, as well as the importance of it and the importance of the game played. One by one, each actor told what it was like to be involved in the project. One by one, they expressed how important it was to find roles like this. But it was Flournoy and Shed who had all of us in a hypnotic state every time they talked about what it was like to live both a dream and a nightmare at the same time.
They told stories of what it was like to experience hatred from a country of white people while experiencing unconditional love from one white man. They talked about the struggle it took and how being almost undefeated (Texas Western finished 28-1 that season) was easier than some of the off-the-court drama they had to face each game they played.
Mehcad chipped in on playing Flournoy, Al talked about balling in Chuck Taylors, Josh about the cast on his left wrist, Luke asked questions about Bobby Joe Hill.
All talked about the movie.
"I never thought anyone would make a movie about us," Shed said. "I can tell you one thing, dreams do come true."
At one point, Bruckheimer was asked why he felt it took so long to get this story told, and his response had nothing to do with the fact that the levels of racism in Hollywood today are similar to the levels of racism Texas Western had to face on its way to winning the national title 40 years ago.
"It was difficult to get the rights," he said -- never once thinking (or admitting) that a story of seven black players defeating an all-white team in basketball wasn't on anyone's green-light list as a potential box-office blockbuster.
But the best part of the evening came when Mehcad put me in check about "assuming" that he'd never done hard labor in a McDonald's. It's something that won't be seen or overtly noticed on the show, but his piercing "That's a big assumption" reaction in my direction spoke volumes about me being as pretentious as Adolph Rupp was once racist.
He was right, I was foul. The fact that he checked me says more about his character as a man than it does any character he plays on-screen.
By conversation and game's end (Flournoy won the hand), all had a greater understanding of the potential impact this movie might have upon its release.
"It's 'Remember the Titans' minus Denzel," Bruckheimer tells me off-camera. "But I feel it's just as good, just as important a film."
That said, I went to see a private screening of the movie to see if he was accurate or selling me his Hollywood dream.
All I can say is: I wish I had seen the movie before Game Night. I would have given Josh Lucas a hug, instead of shaking his hand when I met him.
Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.