The Coach Carter true story is what helped the sports movie classic reach its iconic status. Starring movie icon Samuel L. Jackson as real-life high school basketball coach Ken Carter, and tells the story of how he changed the lives of the student-athletes on the basketball team at an inner-city high school in Northern California. The film was produced by MTV Films in 2005, hitting the top spot at the box office. Almost two decades later, the story of Ken Carter is still ranked as one of the best basketball movies ever made — and the story of the real Ken Carter is just as inspiring.
In Coach Carter, Jackson’s Ken Carter returns to his former high school, Richmond High, to become the school’s basketball coach. In order to ensure high school athletics didn’t disrupt their long-term future, Carter has the players sign a contract, promising to keep a strong GPA and adhere to a Code of Conduct. When they fail to honor the contract, he keeps them off of the court despite the team’s winning record. While Coach Carter has all the trappings of a high school sports movie like Remember The Titans, complete with the savior teacher trope, it doesn’t end with the typical victory on the court. Instead, the message is that both the movie and the real Ken Carter taught their students is that sports aren’t all that matters.
Is Coach Carter Based On A True Story?
Coach Carter‘s true story is based on Ken Carter, the real-life basketball coach of Richmond High School in Northern California, and almost all of the events Samuel L. Jackson depicted while playing him actually happened. The movie is based on the 1998-1999 season lockout, which made national news. In real life, Carter locked the gym and kept his undefeated basketball team (who inspired fictional students like Jason Lyle, played by Channing Tatum in his debut movie) from competing because they did not honor the academic and behavioral contracts that he had them sign at the beginning of the season.
According to the real-life Ken Carter, the freshman, junior varsity, and varsity teams were all 13-0, which was the best start in school history. His decision to lock the gym and forfeit games until the players raised their GPAs was unpopular with the community, but when it made national news, then California Governor Gray Davis called him a hero and came to the Oilers’ first game after improving their grades.
Ken Carter was heavily involved in the production of the film and made sure that the story was as close to accurate as possible. His involvement in the creative process is what kept the film from having a clichéd happy ending, sticking with a Rocky-like ending where the heroes lose the big game. He wanted to be sure that the film showed a story as close to the truth as possible, making it clear that winning wasn’t everything for this team. Aside from a few creative liberties to make the story more cinematic, Carter’s perspective on the story was honored.
How Accurate Is Coach Carter’s Story? What Does It Change?
According to the real Ken Carter in an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, most of the story from the movie is accurate (via MTV). He actually was a former Richmond High School basketball player, setting the scoring record at the school, which his son Damien — who really did withdraw himself from private school to play for the Oilers — went on to break. The 1999 team did get locked out of the gym for poor academic performance during the 1998-1999 season.
In fact, it was the national news coverage of the story that inspired this realistic sports movie. He didn’t, however, leave the gym locked the entire time, as other sports and classes needed to use the gym. Carter did have some pushback from the parents, his players, and the community for his actions, but his focus on academics proved successful in real life, as well. The graduation rate for student-athletes in Richmond was low, and Carter’s basketball players all graduated during his time as coach from 1997 to 2002.
The biggest change from the real Coach Carter story is the students. Like most movies based on true stories, certain characters were invented to serve the story. None of the students depicted in the movie are actual students that Ken Carter coached during his time at Richmond, other than his own son Damien, played by Robert Ri’chard. The character names and circumstances were made up so as not to embarrass any of basketball coach Ken Carter’s real students with implications of criminal activities.
Coach Carter also only shows Richmond High School as having a varsity basketball team. In reality, they had freshman, junior varsity, and varsity teams, all of which Carter coached during his five years at Richmond High. Finally, Coach Carter changed the varsity Oilers’ win record to 16-0 before the lockdown. The team ultimately lost in the second round of their district playoffs instead of the first round of the state tournament.
What Happened To Coach Carter After The Movie
Ken Carter was considered a hero in Richmond after the 1998-1999 season. He continued to coach at Richmond High School until 2002, at which point he left to coach the LA Rumble, a professional SlamBall team. A prime candidate for a sports comedy like Dodgeball, SlamBall is a form of basketball that is played on four trampolines that also has a professional league that originally aired games on Spike TV. He also went on to carry the Olympic torch in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Coach Carter ends after the team comes back to Richmond High after their loss in the state tournament, showing what became of each student following the movie.
In reality, Carter’s basketball players did all graduate from high school, with many attending college. One of the players from the 1998-1999 season that Carter coached was Courtney Anderson, who became an NFL tight end and played for the Oakland Raiders, the Detroit Lions (the team both Eddie Brock and Axel Foley support), and the Atlanta Falcons from 2004 to 2007.
After the Coach Carter movie came out, Ken Carter became a motivational speaker and is the founder of the Coach Ken Carter Foundation which, just like in the movie, focuses on improving the lives of BIPOC students through education, training, and mentoring. Coach Carter’s controversial decision to lock the gym and keep his undefeated team from playing really did change the lives of everyone involved, including his.
Where The Real Coach Carter Is Now
Coach Carter turns 20 in a few years, so what is the real Ken Carter up to after being played by Samuel L. Jackson? Ken Carter is still very much in the full stride of his career having continued his work as a motivational speaker and author since the mid-’00s. He founded a school in Texas in 2009 – the Coach Carter Impact Academy boarding school – of which he is the dean and headmaster. Carter also owns and runs Prime Time Publishing and Prime Time Sports, which offers sports marketing services.
As an author he’s released two books, 2005’s Coach Carter: My Life and 2012’s Yes Ma’am, No Sir: The 12 Essential Steps for Success in Life. He reconnected with former Richmond students in 2018, and one, Wayne Oliver, went on to be an international basketball player after playing under Carter in high school. It seems that Ken Carter, the father and former basketball coach who inspired Coach Carter, continues to be a role model to this day.
What Samuel L. Jackson Said About Bringing Ken Carter To The Screen
Despite playing larger-than-life roles like Nick Fury in the MCU, the Coach Carter true story makes this role one of Samuel L. Jackson’s finest. The actor also seems to have had a strong connection to the story and formed a relationship with the real Carter while preparing for the role. When discussing playing Ken Carter (via MovieWeb), Jackson spoke about the similarities he saw between himself the real-life basketball coach, saying, “He believes in education and he believes people should be accountable for things they say they are going to do.”
Jackson went on to stress the importance to him of seeing a sports movie that emphasized the value of education for young high school athletes, as so few of them go on to have professional sports careers. Samuel L. Jackson enjoyed participating in a movie with a message he truly believed in, and this passion is apparent in his performance bringing Ken Carter to life in Coach Carter.
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