Some athletes can act. Others cannot. Most of the time, that fact is irrelevant to whether or not we enjoy their cameos in movies and on TV.
Many athletes jump at the chance to be on the silver screen, even if it means they’ll have to remove their fake teeth to the delight of a couple of A-list actresses or wear a ridiculous genie costume. In retrospect, maybe some of them regret their decisions to partake—but the fans never do.
Here’s a look at some of the best athlete cameos ever. For some extra fun, let’s rank them and add grades for their performances—and just because the material is funny doesn't guarantee an automatic A. You have to be able to act a little bit, too.
Some athletes can act. Others cannot. Most of the time, that fact is irrelevant to whether or not we enjoy their cameos in movies and on TV.
What else would these guys be doing right now while the NHL labor dispute drags on? May as well cameo in a Judd Apatow movie.
Several current and former members of the Philadelphia Flyers—but most notably, Ian Laperriere—cameo in the recently-released comedy This is 40, the follow-up to the 2007 hit Knocked Up. This one focuses on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) navigating the increasingly treacherous waters of life and marriage as they age.
In one particularly memorable scene, Debbie accompanies her much younger co-worker Desi (Megan Fox) to a nightclub for a “business meeting.” In actuality, they spend the evening flirting with a plethora of Flyers players in town for a road game.
Laperriere steals the show when he pulls out his best party trick, removing his fake teeth and letting Desi try them on. Apparently, the casting agents were very specific in their search criteria for the role: Laperriere told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi that because his teeth “were still removable at the time,” he landed the role.
There are lots of moments in Ted that are both hilarious and hilariously unbearable, but aside from the one in which Mila Kunis discovers human feces on the floor of her apartment, this one might take the cake.
At the end of the film, in a grand romantic gesture, John (Mark Wahlberg) gets up on stage during a Norah Jones concert to serenade estranged girlfriend Lori (Kunis). Unfortunately, his vocals aren’t a hit with the sold-out crowd, and when John doesn’t get the hint despite the crowd’s attempt to boo him off the stage, Shawn Thornton takes things into his own hands.
The Bruins enforcer storms the stage to initiate a physical altercation with John, but he’s promptly stopped by a microphone to the face—and then John goes right back to singing.
If only the Dan Carcillos of the world could use a mic on Thornton during in-game fights.
These days, Ryan Reynolds is trying to pretend he’s a serious actor, but most of us remember his epic portrayal of Van Wilder. And in the 2002 hit movie, he was joined by a few under-praised guest stars.
Former NBA star Darius Miles was one of them, along with Clippers teammates Lamar Odom, Quentin Richardson and Michael Olowokandi. But it was Miles who got the most out of his screen time. The former first-round draft pick moved on from his cameo to score a leading role in the 2004 film The Perfect Score, which chronicles the life of a high school basketball player who struggles to get an SAT score high enough to get into college.
Apparently, Miles had some competition for the role. He told ESPN.com’s Miki Turner that he beat out Ben Wallace for the part. Wallace may have had the better NBA career, but Miles got to go Hollywood.
And to think it all started with Van Wilder.
It’s a football movie. It takes place in a prison. It stars Nelly of “Ride With Me” fame, Burt Reynolds, Adam Sandler and, of course, Michael Irvin.
How could anyone not love The Longest Yard?
Well, don’t pose that question to the critics.
The remake of the 1974 classic stars Sandler as a former NFL quarterback who lands in jail and teams up with his fellow inmates to challenge the prison guards to a game. Dallas Cowboys legend and three-time Super Bowl champion Irvin plays an inmate who initially refuses to be a part of the team but eventually gives in—with Nelly’s help, of course.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I cried. Take that for what it’s worth.
This is one of the more somber cameos on the list, offering a nice dose of authenticity to an Oscar-winning film that chronicled the lives of boxers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund.
The Fighter focuses on the career of Ward (Mark Wahlberg), but it is Eklund (Christian Bale) who carries the movie. “The Pride of Lowell” was once a New England welterweight champion but saw his career crumble due to drug addiction. The defining moment of Eklund's career came when he lost to an undefeated Sugar Ray Leonard in Boston in 1978, marking the final match of his professional career.
In his cameo in The Fighter, Sugar Ray plays himself and is harassed by Eklund at every opportunity, reminding him of how he managed to knock him down and begging for a rematch.
Back in the day, when LeBron James still played for the Cavaliers and people didn’t hate him yet, he delivered the golden moment of Entourage’s Season 6 finale.
As Vince, Turtle, E and Drama get ready to get on a private jet to Italy, they run into Matt Damon in the parking lot—Matt Damon, who has been hounding Vince for weeks about donating money to his children’s charity. Damon unleashes on Vince for being a cheapskate who only donates a meager 10 Gs to the kids, despite the fact that he made $20 million that year—and while Vince and his friends prepare to embark upon their vacation, Damon and the Cavs star are headed on a charitable mission in the name of the kids.
After LeBron agrees that Vince's donation was rather weak, Vince, in a fit of frustration, asks LeBron how much he donated.
“I gave a million, Vince,” LeBron deadpans.
The magical cameo makes you like LeBron again.
We’re used to seeing Tom Brady looking pretty and perfect on billboards and on the covers of magazines and in Ugg ads and stuff.
We’re not used to seeing him look homeless. Or smart. No offense.
In the critically damned 2003 comedy Stuck on You, in which Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon play conjoined twins, Brady gave us one of the few funny moments of the film, when—barely recognizable in a ratty wig, broken glasses and a pocket protector—he plays Computer Geek No. 1 and has some fun fooling around on PhotoShop. Mostly, it’s funny because it’s a geeky Tom Brady.
Lawyer Milloy plays his computer geek cohort but nobody really cares.
He’s not an athlete, but he’s one of the most talked-about coaches in sports these days, especially in light of those rumors that he wants out of the miserable franchise that currently owns him.
In better days—when his team wasn’t getting steamrolled by everyone it faced, and when he actually had a starting quarterback capable of playing football—Rex Ryan’s offseason activities involved partaking in Adam Sandler movies. In That’s My Boy, Ryan had a small role as a lawyer friend of Sandler’s who, ironically, had a Tom Brady and Bill Belichick fetish.
Ryan’s fictional office is peppered with Belichick bobbleheads and Brady posters, and in his most memorable moment, he freaks out when Sandler, in a fit of rage, throws a chair at the wall and hits poor Tommy right in the face.
It’s hard to describe this one without giving away everything that happens in The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy—but assuming everyone in the world has seen it at this point, there’s probably not too much to give away.
Hines Ward makes a rather understated appearance at the end of the film, when Bane (Tom Hardy) is wreaking the full extent of his havoc on Gotham. The bad guys take over the world in the midst of a football game featuring the fictional Gotham Rogues, and most notably, Ward—whose Steelers are co-owned by Dark Knight Rises producer Thomas Tull.
Forget about a touchdown. Ward is the dude carrying the ball when an explosion erupts at one end of the field, and he has to outrun the flames in order to survive. As he told NFL.com’s Marc Sessler, "I've run scared before, but I really ran scared that day.”
There are few cameos on this list cooler than Ward’s. He got to be in Batman. And he got to be on a football field that collapses at the end of the world.
It may have been one of the worst movies in the history of movies, but at least it gave Trot Nixon, Johnny Damon and a handful of other Red Sox another taste of the limelight.
Fever Pitch tells the tale of the Red Sox’s fruitless effort to end the Curse of the Bambino—or so it seemed. Rumor has it, the ending of the film—which was shot during Boston’s remarkable 2004 season—had to be rewritten to accommodate the fact that the Red Sox actually did win a championship for the first time since 1918.
Nixon, Damon and some other Boston players are featured in a scene after Game 3 of the ALCS, when Ben (Jimmy Fallon) encounters them in a bar, "eating with gusto." Because after going down 0-3 in the ALCS, the most important players on the team would clearly be out and about, laughing and having fun, instead of maybe focusing on the game plan for pulling off the greatest comeback in the history of sports.
If you suspend your disbelief, you can enjoy the cameos long enough to appreciate the joy of seeing some real-life players reenact the greatest accomplishment of their lives.
Larry David’s HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm never fails to deliver comedic gold, but in one particularly memorable episode in Season 4, it was Muggsy Bogues who provided us with the biggest laugh of all.
The 5’3” former NBA star is most well-known for being so small and yet still making a career for himself in basketball. Now, he’s almost as well-known for being the guy who caught Larry David … looking at him while they share a restroom at Primo’s Restaurant.
Larry, accompanied by Richard Lewis, ventures into the bathroom and becomes starstruck when Bogues walks in. At first, all goes well—Larry and Richard, who are big fans, fawn over Bogues, but once Bogues catches Larry peering at him, the party is over. He freaks out and pummels Larry, who then has some sort of cardiac episode.
We get to see Mike Tyson knock out Zach Galifianakis. We get to see him sing Phil Collins’ biggest hit with Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms. We get to see him harass them for kidnapping his pet tiger. And we get to see surveillance footage of Galifianakis gleefully peeing into Tyson’s pool.
Yes, The Hangover is a great, great movie.
Though Tyson’s role was minimal, it was crucial to the film’s plot—and Tyson himself ended up being crucial to helping the Three Best Friends Anyone Could Have recover their other best friend on the roof of Caesars Palace in Vegas.
In the end, Tyson’s role was a glorious, if random, surprise.
No one ever said Tom Brady is good at everything. For evidence, just see his cameo appearance on Entourage in 2009.
It shouldn’t have been too difficult. Brady only had to play himself in a celebrity golf tournament in which he’d be joined on-screen by Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), Vince (Adrian Grenier) and Mark Wahlberg. But despite the fact that Brady looked physically pained while attempting to remember and deliver his lines, the final product was gold.
Turtle, a lifelong New York Giants fan, could barely bring himself to look Brady—quarterback of the enemy Patriots—in the eye, until Brady invites him to dinner with Gisele. But Brady’s best moment comes when he offers a struggling Drama his own driver, and Drama—after shanking it yet again—breaks Brady’s club over his knee.
And Brady responds by giggling in glee/confusion.
P.S. Beware of language.
It’s a phrase that immediately puts smiles on the faces of Celtics fans. Or rather, it did a year ago at this time.
Former Celtic and current Heat guard Ray Allen’s most shining cinematic moment came in the 1998 Spike Lee smash hit He Got Game, also starring Denzel Washington and Milla Jovovich. Allen plays high school standout Jesus Shuttlesworth and, unlike many of the others on this list, he earned rave reviews from critics for his portrayal. To this day, he is not known to fans as Ray Allen. He is known as Jesus.
But if Spike Lee could see the future and knew at the time that Allen would become a member of a Boston team, this role definitely would have gone to someone else. Probably Jeremy Lin.
Dan Marino has spent many years grappling with the fact that he never won a Super Bowl during the course of his legendary career.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective offers some consolation with the theory that if it wasn’t for a crazed fictional kicker, he would have.
Marino plays himself in the story of a kooky pet detective (Jim Carrey) who makes it his mission to recover the missing mascot of the Miami Dolphins and, in the process, saves both the quarterback and the dolphin mascot from a kidnapping—just in the nick of time. Ace rescues Marino in time for him to return to the team for Super Bowl XXVII.
If only Marino could really say that the only reason he never won a championship ring was because of Courtney Cox. Ah, the joys of Hollywood.
For many kids born in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Shaquille O’Neal’s career isn’t marked by the four NBA championships he won or by his infamous tension with Kobe Bryant. It’s his turn as a giant magical genie named Kazaam.
Kazaam tells the story of a young loner who doesn’t fit in and, in the midst of being chased through the dangerous streets of his neighborhood by a crew of antagonists, he accidentally yet serendipitously releases a genie. That genie was Shaq—as Kazaam, of course.
This movie is Aladdin meets Air Bud, and unlike many of the others on this list, one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA has the starring role. How could anyone not love it?
Michael Jordan should probably be most well-known for what he did with the Chicago Bulls, with whom he won six NBA championships. Or maybe he should be most well-known for, I don’t know, being the best basketball player in the history of ever.
But in the eyes of some, he’s remembered for his illustrious role in Space Jam, the movie that birthed “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Space Jam tells us the story of what transpired during Jordan’s first retirement. And what transpired was Jordan helping the characters from Looney Toons maintain their freedom by winning a basketball game against aliens.
What cause could be more noble?
In terms of the most famous (or infamous) sports movies of the last couple of decades, this has to rank near the top of the list. It may not be as much of a tearjerker as Remember the Titans, but when you think Jordan, you think Space Jam—for better or worse.
Brett Favre’s role in There’s Something About Mary is truly magical—though little of it has anything to do with his abilities as an actor.
Throughout the entire Farrelly Brothers comedy, we know that Mary (Cameron Diaz) had a serious relationship with a great guy who broke her heart. In one of the film’s final scenes—as Ted (Ben Stiller) is on the brink of winning her back—the mysterious ex reenters the picture, and we find out that said ex is NFL superstar and Super Bowl champion quarterback “Brett Fav...ruh.”
And when Mary finds out that silly third-party rumors and lies led to the demise of her relationship with the QB, and she chooses awkward Ted anyway, we are presented with one of the true joys of Hollywood: anything can happen.
Grade: B+ (Just missed an A because Favre may be the worst athlete-actor of all time)
One of the greatest celebrity roles in a movie ever, hands down.
In cult favorite Dumb and Dumber, Harry (Jeff Daniels, pre-Will McAvoy days) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) are eating in a diner when Harry spills the salt. Lloyd promptly instructs him to throw some over his shoulder, and instead of tossing a pinch, Harry tosses the shaker—and hits the giant and angry Sea Bass (Neely) in the head. Sea Bass, to exact revenge, spits in Harry’s burger, ruining his lunch.
To retaliate, Lloyd—in an act of “sure genius”—mimics a scheme from a horror movie in order to stick Sea Bass and his cronies with the bill. Later in the movie, Sea Bass reappears for a … rather disturbing scene. But don’t worry, Harry and Lloyd get the best of him once again. Accidentally, of course.
Around the nation, Neely is almost better known for his role in the Farrelly Brothers flick than for his role on the Boston Bruins.
What happens when you’re mid-flight on an airplane and the entire crew gets sick and the only person capable of landing the plane is an NBA legend?
You let him land that plane, obviously.
In the 1980 cult favorite, six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays himself slash co-pilot Roger Murdock. As he attempts to land the aircraft, we’re presented with one of the top comedic moments in cinematic history as little Joey ventures to the cockpit and insists that a Lakers star is the guy landing the plane. Abdul-Jabbar, of course, plays dumb and insists that he is just the co-pilot, not an NBA player—until Joey tells him his dad always says Kareem is awful on defense and doesn’t try unless it’s the playoffs.
After that, Abdul-Jabbar has no choice but to set him straight.