Hollywood loves basketball movies and basketball players, which succeed on the big screen at about the same rate as Shaq at the free throw line, which is to say infrequently. Let's take a look at some of the best — and worst — examples of ballers on the big screen.
Adam Sandler gives a wild and energetic performance in "Uncut Gems," but we all know he was feeding off Kevin Garnett's energy. Garnett, playing himself, drives the plot, makes good on two very elaborate prop bets, and plays incredible defense on Sandler to protect a valuable opal. If only Sandler's magnetic doors had the same level of protection as a prime KG guarding the rim.
Kyrie Irving's "Uncle Drew" was a cinematic miracle. A comedy based on a Pepsi Maxx ad, starring NBA legends wearing old people makeup, directed by the guy best known for making the Budweiser "Wassup?" commercials, and included a nudė scene from Shaq – and it was a success! In hindsight, the most shocking part may have been that Kyrie made it to the set every day, although Nate Robinson's intense performance as catatonic baller "Boots" qualifies as a tour de force by NBA acting standards.
"Blue Chips" is about a Bobby Knight-esque college coach played by Nick Nolte, featuring a bunch of basketball luminaries like Larry Bird, Rick Pitino and Coach Knight himself. Shaq and Penny Hardaway play teammates named Neon and Butch, just as they were about to team up on the Magic in real life. Shaq is perfectly adequate playing — essentially — non-famous Shaq, but the most impressive performance comes from Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. He sinks free throw after free throw during a scene with Nolte, who eventually ad libs, "Do you ever miss?"
Kevin Durant switches talent with a child in a Freaky "Friday"-esque switcheroo. Durant can hardly shoot or dribble, while the child becomes a star for his school team, then transfers to a better team at a different school so he can win two titles in a row. It’s still the worst thing to happen to Oklahoma City in the summer of 2012, including the James Harden trade. As anyone who read his burner accounts can tell, Kevin Durant is not good at acting, even when playing himself. The best scene is when they recreate the circumstances of the talent switch, which involves drilling Rumble the Bison with a basketball — the most brutal mascot abuse since the wild pitches in Bull Durham.
Ray Allen delivers a solid performance in the complex, challenging role of Jesus Shuttlesworth. Although, the real Jesus Shuttlesworth would have never let Denzel Washington score on him in their climactic one-on-one game. There’s other ballers involved — the high school team has Walter McCarty and an excellent Travis Best — but the scene-stealing performance comes from Rick Fox, playing a charismatic sleazebag college star named Chick Deagen.
Usually when Hollywood decides to cast a basketball player in a movie, they surround him with talented actors to make things easier. This was not the case with "Double Team," as Dennis Rodman was paired with the Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme, while the villain is played by Mickey Rourke at his career zenith. Rodman plays a "flamboyant weapons dealer," which helped prepare him for his later diplomatic negotiations with Kim Jong-Un. Rodman eventually dominated the Golden Raspberry Awards (for worst movies of the year), winning Worst Supporting Actor, Worst New Star and Worst Screen Couple (with Van Damme) — making him the only NBA player with five rings and three Razzies.
In a role originally imagined for Andre the Giant, Washington Wizards big man Gheorghe Muresan plays a Romanian orphan discovered by Billy Crystal's talent agent. This must exist in a world without professional basketball because it's unclear who would see Muresan and think "actor" and not "NBA center." According to CNN's review, Muresan "speaks as if he's storing potatoes in his cheeks for the oncoming Romanian winter." (They also call the film "not good at tall.") It would be Muresan's only role, though he did stellar work in ads for Snickers and Gheorghe Muresan Cologne.
LeBron James shines in the challenging role of LeBron James in the Amy Schumer-Bill Hader rom-com "Trainwreck." It could be his natural charisma, or it could be all the practice he has pretending to get fouled. The King definitely has a future in Hollywood, and we're not just talking about racking up titles with the Lakers.
You might not think that "Airplane!" is a basketball movie, but you'd be wrong. Ted introduces an African tribe to the sport, there's a Jive-to-English translator and, of course, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays Roger Murtaugh — the plane's co-pilot who happens to wear a Lakers jersey under his uniform. He does a fantastic job, even if he can't resist coming to Kareem's defense about playing hard.
Despite the faulty memories of many moviegoers, there is no movie called "Shazam" starring Sinbad; it's "Kazaam," and the star is Shaq. Why would Shaquille O'Neal make a movie where he played a rapping genie who dressed like this? According to Shaq himself: "Someone said, 'Hey, here's $7 million, come in and do this genie movie.' What am I going to say, no? So I did it." It might be the worst movie an NBA player has ever appeared in, and if he had three wishes, Shaq would probably use one to make it so this film never happened.
This is so far the only major motion picture to combine professional basketball and astrology. The Pittsburgh Pythons and their star, Julius Erving, are struggling to succeed, but they revamp the team to include only players born under the sign of Pisces, which also becomes the name of the team. Of course, this makes them unstoppable. Credit to the filmmakers for playing to Erving's strengths: They include a three-minute montage that's just Doctor J dunking and draining baskets on a playground set to an inspirational song about doing your best. Let's see Daniel Day-Lewis pull that scene off.
"White Men Can't Jump" is a great movie about basketball and race relations featuring some excellent hooping from Woody Harrelson and some great athleticism from Wesley Snipes — though he can't dribble a ball without looking at it. They also get a great comedic performance from former star Marques Johnson, playing the hapless Raymond, who gets hustled by Woody and Wesley only after humiliating himself in an attempted convenience store robbery.
Billy Crystal again has to deal with actors who are much taller than him in "Forget Paris," a romantic comedy about an NBA referee. It turns out someone loves referees. The film has cameos from many NBA players including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who Crystal ejects from his farewell game, along with Isiah Thomas and both entire teams. He also has a memorable confrontation with Charles Barkley, which provided the skills he needed to host "Saturday Night Live" a whopping four times — a record for any athlete.
Wilt Chamberlain plays Bombaata, captain of the queen's guard and Conan's secret nemesis in "Conan the Destroyer." It's Wilt's only acting role, even though he claimed he's been in over 20,000 films. He and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both similarly unintelligible, despite Arnold still learning English at the time. We only wish some broadcaster adopts "Bombaata!" as his signature dunk call.
Michael Jordan shines in the role of Michael Jordan in "Space Jam," a classic from 1996 that thankfully still has its website up. NBA stars Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley appear, as does Danny Ainge (who just yells at Barkley) and Shawn Bradley, who is remarkably believable as a basketball player with no talent. We also see Lakers Vlade Divac and Cedric Ceballos, who would both be off the team within months of the movie coming out. Just like in real life, MJ hits the game-winner, though Monstars fans still claim that he pushed off on the final shot.
Bruce Lee wasn't just Kareem's co-star in "Game Of Death," a film completed years after Lee's untimely death. He was Kareem's martial arts teacher from 1967-71 — from back when he was playing at UCLA. Kareem has no lines, but he delivers a good fight and shows off the custom style Lee developed for his 7-foot-2 frame. Kareem really did not need the extra training, as he had no problems handling Kent Benson on his own.
Not to pick on Shaquille O'Neal's acting too much in this gallery, but what choice do we have after this performance? "Steel" is a disastrous 1997 film, which could have ended the whole genre of superhero movies before it began. He's a weapons designer who makes a suit of armor out of junkyard steel and takes out notorious bad guy...Judd Nelson. Thankfully, he never has to fire a gun from the free throw line, or Nelson would have taken over the world.
The premise of "Eddie" is that limo driver Whoopi Goldberg takes over as New York Knicks coach and turns the struggling team around. The more unbelievable idea, though, is that the Knicks owner wants to move the team to St. Louis. There's plenty of NBA players in the ensemble, but John Salley is legitimately good as seemingly washed-up veteran Nate Wilson, and even the late Malik Sealy does a convincing job as a shoot-first superstar. Maybe a limo driver is unqualified to coach the Knicks, but at least Eddie (Goldberg) didn't insist on running the triangle offense.
Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern are rabid Boston fans who kidnap a Utah Jazz star, in an eerie prelude to the Gordon Hayward signing. Larry Bird cameos as himself, berating Aykroyd and Stern for being fair weather fans when they're undercover as Utah supporters. The whole movie is pretty flimsy, but the Bill Walton performance is especially unrealistic. He announces the game with Marv Albert and doesn't make a single reference to the Grateful Dead!
It's important to remember that someone made a movie called "Like Mike" that had no involvement from Michael Jordan whatsoever. Using the "magic shoes" gimmick that made the animated "Hammerman" such a success, Lil Bow Wow becomes a superstar after being struck by lightning and holding MJ's old shoes. Of course, he decides to become a regular kid again after faking out Vince Carter at the end of his final game, which provides the most realistic moment in the movie: Vince Carter falling short in a big game. The best performance comes from Dirk Nowitzki, who asks Bow Wow for an autograph for his niece, named, um, Dirk.
John Salley has the unique distinction of being on the "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons and a cast member in a "Bad Boys" film, playing lanky computer expert Fletcher in "Bad Boys" and "Bad Boys II." Mainly cast for his height — or maybe as an Easter egg to basketball fans — Salley displays comedic timing. Is Salley the Best Damn NBA Actor, Period?
Common has played in so many Celebrity Games at All-Star Weekend that he's essentially an honorary NBA player, not to mention his intense spoken-word playoff commercials. In some instantly-dated moments, Common stars for the New Jersey Nets (nope) who reach the Eastern Conference Finals (nope) and meet Magic stars Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard (almost immediately traded away). Dwight does appear in skin-tight shirt (yup) but neither eats candy nor makes a fart noise (nope).
Future Avengers Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson co-star with future BIG3 MVP (we hope!) Darius Miles in a heist film about stealing the SAT. Of course, since Miles went directly to the NBA from high school, he never had to take the test at all. Miles is nothing special and doesn't once do his fist-to-temples celebration, but just like his time with the Clippers, he's not the reason this collection of talent delivers such a disappointing product. If you want to see Miles and his buddy Quentin Richardson together, they make cameo appearances in "Van Wilder," which also features Michael Olowokandi's only cinematic role.
Not a basketball movie, but real-life reserve police officer Shaquille O'Neal makes an uncomfortable appearance in Grown Ups 2" as a wacky police officer. He points a gun at our heroes and makes them dance, because nothing was funnier in 2013 than inappropriate police shootings. Later, Shaq throws a guy over a house. It's still better than "Kazaam."
Charles Barkley and Bill Laimbeer had a brawl back in 1990 that led to some of the biggest fines in NBA history at the time — $20,000 for each guy. They had a rematch in the Charlie Sheen comedy "Hot Shots," making cameos as fighters during a bar brawl. Laimbeer is clearly a Method actor, since he's wearing his protective face mask during the scene. It's too bad for Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) and Ben Wallace that they stopped after "Part Deux," or it could have been the beginning of a nice film career for both.
"Juwanna Mann" is a truly terrible film about a disgraced "UBA" star who goes undercover in the women's league, which is of course called the WUBA. He takes the opportunity to become a better person but not before sexually harassing his teammates and exposing himself by losing his wig while dunking. Of course, there are some NBA cameos, including Dikembe Mutombo (playing "Coyner"), whose main job is to look disgusted and confused when he sees his teammate strip naked in anger. We'd say the film has not aged well, but even in 2002, critics based the tired premise and the film stands at only 10 percent 'Fresh' on Rotten Tomatoes.
Of all the NBA players who have taken the big screen, Rick Fox has the most legitimate acting career to the point where he doesn't even play a basketball player most of the time. He was a regular on "Oz," played himself on "Party Down" and currently is in his third season of "Greenleaf." But his most high-profile dramatic role was in Tyler Perry's "Meet The Browns" where he holds his own opposite the legendary Angela Bassett, which has to be almost as intimidating as playing with Kobe Bryant.
Sean Keane is a comedian residing in Los Angeles. He has written for "Another Period," "Billy On The Street," NBC, Comedy Central, E!, and Seeso. You can see him doing fake news every weekday on @TheEverythingReport and read his tweets at @seankeane. In 2014, the SF Bay Guardian named him the best comedian in San Francisco, then immediately went out of business.
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