N.B.A. Professionals on the Massive Display screen: Can These Stars Act?

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N.B.A. Pros on the Big Screen: Can These Stars Act?

Does every NBA superstar really want to star in films? One might think so considering the long and checkered history of gamblers to Hollywood (not to mention the amount of flops in the game today). While the newly released Space Jam: A New Legacy takes the booming subgenre of hoop talent-based films into the era of remakes, here’s a guide to the best and worst performances by professional basketball players, starting in the 1970s .

1979

Rent it on most major platforms.

If we’re to believe that goofy 1979 film – and why not? – Basketball at the height of the disco meant players doing the splits to partying buckets, practicing astrology and Dr. Seeing J as the coolest man in the world. Much of his smooth performance is shot in slow motion, which adds to his boast. In one scene, he seduces a woman by taking her to a playground and immersing himself alone in street clothes. In another, he enters a game with a hot air balloon, wearing a glittering silver uniform and is supported by funky soul music. If John Travolta had a sporty counterpart, this was it.

1979

Rent it on most major platforms.

In this light-hearted drama about a coach (played by Gabe Kaplan at the height of his “Welcome Back, Kotter” fame) building an underdog college program, Knick star Bernard King delivers a subtle, lived performance as a pool Hustler with a silky jump shot. He keeps up with an ensemble of actors without outshining them too much on the pitch. Compared to the hectic video game aesthetic of “Space Jam,” this character-driven film feels refreshingly human.

1980

Rent it on most major platforms.

There is no jock cameo more famous than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who plays himself and pretends to be an ordinary airliner pilot. The idea that the two-meter tall superstar could dress up himself after being challenged by a young fan is one of the myriad of jokes in this classic comedy. But when his frustration turns to anger, Abdul-Jabbar cannot overcome his cool, unshakable stoicism.

In the greatest basketball movie of all time, this five-time all-star makes a brief but electrifying appearance as the guy who is angry after being pushed for money and vacates places by brandishing a knife in ineffectual fury. It’s so compelling that you would never know he became famous for basketball, not for acting.

1994

Stream it on Hulu and Paramount +.

This unsung moral story about a Bobby Knight-like college coach (Nick Nolte, crusty as always) who is tricked into corruption is filled with appearances from famous players (Shaquille O’Neal, Larry Bird) and coaches (Rick Pitino, Knight) . They all skillfully play versions of themselves, but the revelation here is Boston Celtic star Bob Cousy transforming into a morally ambivalent sports director. It’s an amazingly safe performance from a Hall of Famer from the early years of the NBA

Shaq is the most charismatic great man in history, funny in cameos and as a talking head, but as a star in his own movie, his track record is more like his foul shootout. The year before he would make one of the most memorable DC superhero films (“Steel”), he delivered this much mocked performance as a rapping ghost in this sappy fantasy. He tries to fulfill the wishes of a mild, sympathetic white child with divorced parents, stumbles through, shouts his lines, attacks and even burps with laughter.

1997

Rent it on most major platforms.

Although Dennis Rodman won three Razzie Awards for that Jean-Claude Van Damme flop, he’s actually a plausible action star. He kicks convincingly, looks good in extravagant get-ups (lots of hair to die and leather) and delivers dry, cheesy riffing lines to his personality. (“You’re crazier than my hairdresser.”) All the camp humor in this film comes from the glint in his eyes that he needs when he comes up with one of many basketball references when he’s not supposed to be a player, but rather an extremely big one Arms dealer.

Making her big film debut alongside Denzel Washington must be as daunting as jumping into the pros and guarding LeBron James in your first game. Ray Allen exudes innocence and calm charisma in the meaty role of Coney Island basketball prodigy, Jesus Shuttlesworth. He convinces as a shy, paralyzed high school star with buried anger at his father. It is a role-player in a performance who skilfully executes the game plan, occasionally with verve.

1998

Rent it on most major platforms.

At 7 feet 7 inches, Romanian center Gheorghe Muresan was the tallest player in NBA history. That was enough for a solid professional career, even if his skills, especially at the beginning, were immature. But for amateurs, acting can be harder than sports. He’s in crisis in this Billy Crystal buddy film. He can be hard to understand (English is not his first language), and he could hold another record in his reaction shots: the least expressive star in comedy history.

When it comes to movies with Brooklyn Nets, “Uncle Drew” with Kyrie Irving is more flashy and fun. But nothing is as impressive as Kevin Durant, who in this rigorously healthy Freaky Friday-style movie pretends to be bad at basketball by accidentally swapping talents with a clumsy high school kid. A common trope for the genre (“Space Jam” also has a plot point where NBA stars lose their skills), Durant really commits to being bad and tweaks its shape in subtle and consistent ways. It’s an eerie pleasure to watch this perfectionist trip do a crossover, airball a dunk, and keep getting that patented midrange shot.

2018

Rent it on most major platforms.

You know the old guy on the playground, whom everyone underestimates because he looks slow and out of shape, but then dominates the game with cunning moves and devious changes of pace. Kyrie Irving’s appearance is a loving ode to this figure, right down to the sweatpants. Most current stars who moonlight in movies play versions of themselves, so it is a brave move for Irving to try a completely different character, change his stance on a clue, and sway a tired voice. And when he looked a little stiff, it’s not easy to act under such an elaborate makeup job.

2019

Stream it on Netflix.

The personality in the field usually doesn’t translate to the screen, but this is a notable exception. Playing an amplified version of himself, Kevin Garnett was as intense and wild as he was kicking Adam Sandler’s face with Patrick Ewing.

1996

Michael Jordan has enough star power to light a commercial or a Saturday Night Live sketch, but his wooden acting needed animation from Bugs Bunny to make the original Tune Squad a powerhouse.

2021

Stream it on HBO Max.

Who is better: MJ or LeBron? This endless sports talk debate about the greatest of all time usually centers on stats accumulated and rings won, but now we have another metric to argue about: who is the best – or, more precisely, the least terrifying – leading man ? It’s close, but James is ahead of the game, shows more reach, plays against cartoons, pretends to be the haughty sports dad along with the goofy grandchild corporate hero, and even falls back on sloppy feelings Jordan for meme-worthy Hall of Fame recordings reserved.