The Air Up There
(1994)

POOPER: Jimmy, Saleh, and the latter’s fellow Winabi defeat Nyaga’s Mingori team in a basketball game, and in accordance with some stipulations laid down before the game, the Winabi’s land is now safe from Nyaga forever. Saleh enrolls at St. Joseph’s College and joins the basketball team, and Jimmy – having proven his worth to Coach Fox – takes over for Fox as the team’s head coach.

LONG VERSION: One night, several of Nyaga’s (Mabutho “Kid” Sithole) men attack Saleh’s (Charles Gitonga Maina) village, and they steal some cattle and set fire to some huts. The next morning, the Winabi start to leave their land in search of a new home, feeling that they cannot withstand Nyaga anymore. Saleh tells Jimmy (Kevin Bacon) that he will take him back to town so he can start making his way back to the U.S.

They go into town to find Saleh’s father Urudu (Winston Ntshona) confronting Nyaga in a bar over the actions of his men. Urudu eventually challenges Nyaga to a basketball game pitting his Winabi against Nyaga’s Mingori team, with some stipulations: If Nyaga’s team wins, then he will get the Winabi’s land, but if the Winabi win, then Nyaga must return the cattle his men stole back to them and leave them and their land alone forever. He then tells Jimmy that he must train some other tribesmen to play alongside Saleh and be the coach of the team. Jimmy initially refuses to have any part of this game, but he changes his mind when Saleh promises him that he will come play basketball for St. Joseph’s College if his tribe wins, and this promise gains Urudu’s approval. Nyaga accepts Urudu’s challenge, thinking that the Winabi have no chance of winning.

Jimmy and Saleh begin training the other tribesmen in basketball, but a few days into the training, the tribesman who makes the position of point guard suffers an ankle injury. Feeling that all is lost, Jimmy starts making preparations to return home, but that night, Saleh stops him from leaving by informing him that the tribe’s elders have decided that he can be the point guard for the team so long as he goes on the arduous journey that all Winabi men must take to become true tribesmen. Jimmy embarks on the journey and completes it, making him eligible to play on the tribe’s behalf. 

During the game, Coach Fox (Sean McCann) shows up to check up on Jimmy and find out if he has recruited Saleh. At halftime, Saleh tells Jimmy that he will come to America with him whether his tribe wins or not, but Jimmy – having grown to sympathize with the Winabi and their plight – replies that this game isn’t about recruiting him anymore, and that he can do whatever he wants no matter what the outcome.

As the Winabi begin to close in on tying the Mingori during the second half, Nyaga orders his team to take out Jimmy, believing that the Winabi will be nothing without him. One of the team members hits Jimmy in his bad knee, benching him and leaving the Winabi in danger of being forced to forfeit. Just then, Saleh’s exiled brother Halawi (Nigel Miguel) steps in and offers to take over as point guard, in the process forsaking his job with Nyaga and asking for Urudu’s forgiveness. Urudu welcomes him back into the tribe, allowing him to play.

Saleh ends up scoring the winning basket by executing Jimmy’s “Shake N’ Bake” play, saving his tribe’s land from Nyaga. He enrolls at St. Joseph’s and joins the basketball team, and Jimmy – having proven his worth to Fox – becomes the team’s new head coach. 

  

Thanks Tornado Dragon!