NBA pros on the big screen: can these stars act?

Does every NBA superstar really want to be in the movies? You might think so, judging by the long, eventful history of players going to Hollywood (not to mention the number of flops in the game today). As the new “Space Jam: A New Legacy” takes the burgeoning subgenre of hoop talent-built movies into the Age of Remakes, here’s a guide to the best and worst performances of basketball players. professionals, from the 1970s.

1979

Rent it on most of the major platforms.

If this wacky 1979 film is to be believed – and why not? – basketball at the top of the disco meant players were doing the splits to celebrate the buckets, coaching by astrology and Dr J as the coolest man in the world. Much of her smooth performance is shot in slow motion, adding to her bluster. In one scene, he seduces a woman by taking her to a playground and dipping himself into street clothes. In another, he steps into a hot air balloon game, dressed in a shimmering silver uniform, backed up by funky soul music. If John Travolta had a sporting counterpart, it was this one.

1979

Rent it on most of the major platforms.

In this laid-back drama about a trainer (played by Gabe Kaplan at the height of his “Welcome Back, Kotter” fame) that builds an overlooked college agenda, Knick star Bernard King delivers a low-key, lived-in performance as a swimming pool with a silky jump shot. He accompanies a set of actors without overshadowing them too much on the court. Compared to the hectic video game aesthetic of “Space Jam”, this character-driven film is refreshing and human.

1980

Rent it on most of the major platforms.

There is no jock cameo more famous than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar himself playing by pretending to be an ordinary commercial airplane pilot. The idea that the seven-foot superstar could dress up even after being challenged by a young fan is one of the countless jokes in this classic comedy. But when his frustration is supposed to turn into anger, Abdul-Jabbar cannot transcend his coldly unfazed stoicism.

In the greatest basketball movie of all time, this five-time star makes a brief but electric appearance as the enraged guy after being starved of money, clearing the courts by swinging a knife in ineffective rage. It’s so convincing that you’d never know he rose to fame for basketball, not the theater.

1994

Stream it on Hulu and Paramount +.

This little-known morality tale about a Bobby Knight-style college coach (Nick Nolte, always so crisp) tempted by corruption is filled with performances from famous players (Shaquille O’Neal, Larry Bird) and coaches (Rick Pitino, Knight ). They all skillfully play versions on themselves, but the revelation here is the great Boston Celtic Bob Cousy, who turns into a morally ambivalent sporting director. It’s a surprisingly confident performance from an early NBA Hall of Famer

Shaq is the most charismatic big man in history, funny in cameos and as a talker, but as the star of his own film, his track record is more like his offensive shot. The year before he made one of DC’s most forgettable superhero movies (“Steel”), he delivered this much mocked performance as a rap genius in this schmaltzy fantasy. Trying to fulfill the wishes of a bland and sympathetic white child with divorced parents, he leans forward, shouting his lines, assaulting and even burping for laughs.

1997

Rent it on most of the major platforms.

Despite winning three Razzie Awards for this Jean-Claude Van Damme flop, Dennis Rodman is actually a plausible action star. He convincingly kickboxes, looks great in flamboyant outfits (lots of hair and leather), and ironically delivers cheesy lines that riff on his character. (“You’re crazier than my barber.”) All of the camp humor of this movie comes from the glow in his eyes, which he needs to deliver one of the many basketball references, despite the fact that ‘He’s not meant to be a gamer but rather an extremely big arms dealer.

Making your movie debut with Denzel Washington has to be as intimidating as stepping into the pros and keeping LeBron James in your first game. Breathing innocence and quiet charisma, Ray Allen, as the meaty role of Coney Island basketball prodigy Jesus Shuttlesworth, counts himself well, even if you never forget he moonlights. He is persuasive as a shy and crippled high school star with a buried anger against his father. He’s a performance actor who executes the game plan skillfully, sometimes with panache.

1998

Rent it on most of the major platforms.

At 7-foot-7, Romanian center Gheorghe Muresan was the tallest player in NBA history. That was enough for a solid pro career, even though his skills, especially at the start, were crass. But for amateurs, acting can be more difficult than sports. In this Billy Crystal boyfriend movie, he’s stuck in a slump. He can be difficult to understand (English is not his first language), and in his reaction shots he could hold another record: the least expressive star in comedy history.

When it comes to movies starring Brooklyn Nets, “Uncle Drew,” starring Kyrie Irving, is flashier and funnier. But there’s nothing quite as impressive as Kevin Durant pretending to be horrible at basketball in this rigorously healthy “Freaky Friday” type flick in which he accidentally trades talent with a clumsy high school student. A common trope for this genre (“Space Jam” also includes a plot point with NBA stars losing their skills), Durant is truly committed to being bad, adjusting his form in subtle and consistent ways. It’s a cringey pleasure to watch this perfectionist journey do a crossover, an aerial dunk and miss its patented midrange shot, over and over again.

2018

Rent it on most of the major platforms.

You know that old man on the playing field that everyone underestimates because he looks slow and out of shape, but then dominates the game with shrewd moves and devious changes of pace. Kyrie Irving’s performance is a loving ode to this figure, right down to the sweatpants. Most of the current stars moonlighting in movies play versions of themselves, so it’s a bold move for Irving to try out a completely different character, doing a good job of shifting his posture to a hunch and affecting a weary voice. And if it looked a little stiff, it is not easy to act under such elaborate makeup.

2019

Stream it on Netflix.

Personality on the pitch doesn’t usually translate onscreen, but it’s a notable exception. Playing an amplified version of himself, Kevin Garnett was as intense and fierce against Adam Sandler as he was with Patrick Ewing.

1996

Michael Jordan has enough power to light up a “Saturday Night Live” commercial or skit, but his wooden game needed Bugs Bunny animation to turn the original Tune Squad into a powerhouse.

2021

Stream it on HBO Max.

Who is better: MJ or LeBron? This never-ending sporting debate over the greatest of all time typically centers around stats amassed and rings earned, but now we have another metric to discuss: who is the best – or more precisely, the least terrible – leading player. ? It’s close, but James has the advantage, showing more reach by playing opposing cartoons, pretending to be the bossy sporting dad with the goofy corporate hero, even tapping into the sloppy feeling Jordan reserves for memorable inductions. to the Hall of Fame.

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