Many NBA players have made the move from the basketball court to the big screen—and in honor of Adam Sandler’s new Netflix basketball drama Hustle, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best basketball players turned actors. This isn’t about who is the G.O.A.T.—though, the leading contenders for that title did make this unranked list. This is not about praising the pro-ballers who train to be the Meryl Steeps of the NBA. Most of the players included here have been cast as fictionalized versions of themselves on screen, but many have shown they’re not afraid to poke some fun at their public personas. Other players have also shown that they can tackle even those characters who are not athletic.
From a former “Bad Boy” to a 20-season legend and so many former Los Angeles Lakers in between, here are the NBA players who have shown they can do way more than dribble.
The Kid From Akron was seen in the comedy by Amy Schumer (2015). Trainwreck. James was a fictionalized LeBron, who is trying make Cleveland a tourist destination. He is also as frugal and thrifty as possible (a characteristic apparently shared with LeBron). James made clear with this early performance that if you surround him with a strong cast, he can pull off some amazing feats of comedy, from giving Schumer’s Trainwreck The character of the third-degree is her relationship to Aaron, a sports surgeon (Bill Hader), or trade dad jokes with Bugs Bunny. Space Jam: A New Legacy.
Hollywood was attracted to his charismatic smile and giant-sized demeanor. Unfortunately, many of Shaq’s star vehicles aren’t very good. (Sorry, Kazaam apologists.) That’s not to say the big guy doesn’t have any talent. He was actually a key player in the drama of 1994. Blue Chips showed that given the right material, he’s an absolute slam dunk.
The hardest part about being an NBA player-turned-actor is convincing the audience you’re not just an NBA player-turned-actor. The former Milwaukee Buck, who now covers the team as a sports analyst, achieves that and more in 1992’s White Men Can’t Jump as Raymond, a street baller who doesn’t take kindly to getting hustled by Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) and Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson). One of the most hilarious moments from the beloved comedy is his outrageous reaction. He swings around with a switchblade.
The former Boston Celtic made his acting debut alongside Adam Sandler in 2019’s Uncut Gems In it, Garnett plays a version of himself that is hellbent on getting his hands on a black opal owned by Sandler’s eccentric jeweler Howard Ratner. Garnett believes this rare gem will help him in the NBA playoffs. Garnett’s intense performance showed that anything is possible from this basketball player who is known for his tenacity.
Legendary Laker character Laker is well-known for his calm but firm demeanor. This is likely what made him his support turn. Airplane! Roger Murdock is a pilot and he looks very similar to Kareem. When he lets the young passenger whose dad is not a fan know that he “works his buns off” every night on the basketball court, you can’t help but believe him. You can see how funny he is when he tells these ridiculous jokes.
What’s harder than hitting a clutch off-balance three to tie a win-or-go-home Finals game? Going one-on-one with Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s 1998 basketball drama, He’s got the game. Somehow Allen matches Washington’s intensity in the film in which the now retired NBA star, who won championships with the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat, plays the acting legend’s estranged son. It doesn’t hurt that Allen is really good at playing basketball when the cameras are rolling.
For those who never got the pleasure of watching Salley’s beloved Detroit Pistons team, better known as the “Bad Boys,” in action, they might think the four-time NBA champ is just an actor. No, he’s just that good. While he’s appeared in Eddie, Nappily Ever AfterAnd Sneakerella, his breakout role is in 1995’s Bad BoysFletcher is the computer hacker who wears Coke-bottle glasses and is played by Salley. Fletcher was so beloved that Salley reprised his role in 2003’s sequel. Bad Boys II.
The retired Dallas Maverick isn’t the star of 2002’s Follow Mike, Bow Wow would have been the right name. He manages to take the film away in just seconds. In his second film, Netflix’s Hustle he also manages to outshine the movie’s star Adam Sandler in one perfect scene. Dirk is clear that Dirk knows the importance of having great actors and not small parts.
Since 1994, when he was first cast in Hollywood’s “Laker”, the former Laker has worked steadily in Hollywood. Blue Chips alongside Shaquille O’Neal. It’s safe to say, the man’s got range; he’s been a baseball legend in the feel-good family film Holes, the love interest in Tyler Perry’s Meet the BrownsIn the drama about coming of age, he was accompanied by a questionable city councilman Dope. But his standout role may be his most serious turn in HBO’s prison drama Oz, where he plays a famous basketball player with a history of assault who’s hoping to find the notoriety he didn’t find on the court in jail.
Through appearances in films such as Trainwreck and The Mindy Project And New Year’s Eve. (He also produced 2014’s Beyond the Lights.) But it’s his cameo in 2010’s Macgruber, This was his first big-screen acting role, and he earned a spot on our list. Seriously, just go watch that Will Forte comedy and you’ll understand why.
No one will mistake one of the world’s greatest athletes for the world’s greatest actor. Yet there is definitely something to be said about Jordan’s performance in 1996’s Space Jam where he’s forced to act with a lot of big men in green screen suits. It’s nearly impossible to be more animated than Bugs Bunny, but MJ tries—and mostly succeeds—to bring some life to this 2-D sports comedy. It’s hard to find anything better than Jordan posting the Monstars.
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