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NBA Players as Actors: "And the Oscar Goes To..."

Shel HillContributor IIIJanuary 13, 2017

NBA Players as Actors: "And the Oscar Goes To..."

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    Actors love portraying professional athletes. Pro athletes, as entertainers, love being on the big screen. Some have even taken the daring leap of faith and taken on new careers as actors in major motion pictures. When taking on each other's roles, the actor and the professional athlete alike realize how difficult their counterpart's job really is and in turn gain more respect being amazed at how easy those actors or athletes make it seem.

    NBA players have taken that leap more than any other sport and with more success. On the average, NBA players are easier to market since in their game, there aren't as many athletes to get to know and their faces and bodies are easily recognized and admired. The fans and TV are so close to the court that in their styles of play, we often get to see their charisma and charm.

    NBA actors soon realize that playing someone in a role in a film or television show is vastly different from spontaneously using your abilities in pressure situations, although both are done in front of millions of fans. The mind can play tricks on a person and cause that "actor" to think too much or "overact" and give a very uninspiring performance.

    Few NBA players, though, have shown that they do have the talent to make the jump more readily and may even have a career after their playing days are over. Let's take a look at some of the NBA's best and worst actors as they have taken on the admirable task of becoming someone else, and attempting to make us believe his performance.

The Oscar for Best Co-Star in a Major Motion Picture: Ray Allen

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    Not only does he really have game, but Ray Allen held his own when he co-starred opposite one of Hollywood's best actors of all time, Denzel Washington, in Spike Lee's He Got Game (1998). Ray Allen played Jesus Shuttlesworth, a player that is highly recruited and feeling the pressure of his family and neighborhood of picking the right school.

    To make matters worse, his absent father, played by Denzel Washington, is in jail and has been since Shuttlesworth was a child. The governor has given Washington's character a chance at an early release, but only for him to convince his estranged son to attend the governor's alma mater. 

    Allen pulls off some very real and authentically dramatic scenes with Washington as the two engage in many fiery and heart-felt conversations and arguments about him being absent in his son's life.

    This was Allen's first role on the big screen and for a first-timer, he did admirably. On IMDB.com, the movie currently has a rating of 6.8 out of 10, and the name Jesus Shuttlesworth, the title (and saying) "He Got Game" and title hit from the soundtrack performed by hip-hop group Public Enemy are still well known in urban and basketball communities.

    Ray Allen also appeared in a feature role in Harvard Man (2001) starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Adrian Grenier.

The Oscar for the Actor Who's Gotten Wiser with Age: Shaquille O'Neal

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    You might be thinking, "isn't the phrase...gotten better with age?" If you were, you're definitely correct, but in this case, wiser makes more sense.

    Shaquille O'Neal has had a pretty decent movie career, even if he wasn't an NBA superstar. He's starred in two movies (Kazzam, 1996 and Steel, 1997) and co-starred or was featured in five others, the latest being Jack and Jill starring Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes and Al Pacino, and is due to be released in November of this year.

    During the summit of Shaq's popularity when he took the world by storm in the late '90s, he released a platinum-selling rap album 1993 (Shaq Diesel) and three others by 1998. After his first album, Shaq co-starred in Blue Chips starring Nick Nolte and Mary McDonald about a legendary college coach known for running a clean, winning basketball program, now on the downslide of his coaching career.

    Having trouble competing with other major colleges that are now paying players to come to their university, he faces the dilemma of joining the ranks of cheating coaches or keeping his core values of doing things the right way and face being fired from his job.

    Shaq played the role of Neon, a behemoth of an athlete that is not highly recruited because of his academic failures. His character is actually smart but refuses to conform to go to school. He delivers timely comedic lines in his exchanges with Nolte and co-star Mary McDonald.

    After the success of Blue Chips and his rap albums along with his NBA success, Shaq took on two starring roles in Kazzam and Steel. Both were major mistakes and considered failures. Both films received below a 2.5 rating on the IMDB rating system out of a possible 10. Contrarily, Blue Chips received a 6.8 rating.

    Later in his career, O'Neal appeared in feature roles in The Wash, Freddy Got Fingered and his very funny cameo in Scary Movie 4. This is where the wisdom of Shaq's acting career takes place. The less he is featured in the movie, the better he does.

    He has also had many guest appearances in TV shows like My Wife and Kids and The Bernie Mac Show. He has 111 feature appearances in TV shows as himself. This bodes well for Adam Sandler and the success of his upcoming film, Jack and Jill. Sandler is a pro at making hit movies and I'm sure it was no accident that in this film, Shaq, again, has a feature role.

The Oscar for the Most Refined NBA Star Turned Actor: Rick Fox

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    Could it be possible that a player who led his college team to an NCAA Final Four appearance, was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, played 13 seasons, was an important piece the the Lakers' three-peat in 2000-02 and is himself a three-time NBA All-Star actually be a better actor than a basketball player?

    Maybe.

    Rick Fox has had parallel careers in acting as well as the NBA.

    His career in the NBA started off slowly as he didn't quite meet the expectations of the then-rebuilding Boston Celtics as their first-round pick of the 1991 draft. Although he was an All-Star three times, the Celtics weren't winning at the level that their franchise was used to. Fox was then traded to Los Angeles to join fellow actor/NBA star Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Together, they were a part of the Laker dynasty that won three championships in a row.

    In his parallel acting career, Fox has gotten better as his career has prevailed. He's had minor feature roles in He Got Game (1998), Eddie (1996), Resurrection (1999) and The Collectors (TV movie). His best work has come in the later stages of his career, and most notably on television where he starred as an athlete.

    He has had many recurring roles on numerous hit TV series: One Tree Hill (five episodes), Dirt (five episodes), Love Inc. (six episodes) and 1-800-Missing (five episodes). His best work, although all were good performances, came on the hit Emmy Award-winning HBO series, OZ. Fox played a character named Jackson Vahues, an ex-athlete convicted of attempted rape and assault. He appeared in 11 episodes and fit in nicely with the star-studded cast of the series.

    Fox began his acting career landing roles because of his good looks, basketball fame and fame in pop culture while being married to actress Vanessa Williams, but now lands more serious roles because of his acting resume and maturity in the craft.

The Nominees for (Potential) Leading Men: Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant

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    Denzel Washington. Blair Underwood. Tae Diggs. Morris Chestnut. Dwyane Wade. Kobe Bryant.

    These names are all synonymous with being a leading man. The first four are leading men in Hollywood on the big screen. The last two of the NBA's best players and are leading men for their NBA franchises and many other companies that they endorse.

    Wade and Bryant could also be leading men in Hollywood once their basketball careers are done and if they choose to. They both have the charm, smile, charisma and personalities to do so successfully. Both are used to performing very well in stressful situations and when the camera is on them. Both men are very articulate speakers and they both have shown potential in the art of acting.

    Wade has done many commercials for the products he endorses, mainly T-Mobile and Nike. He shines in the commercials where it is more of a skit than a product ad. In the T-Mobile spots, he appears mostly opposite TNT analyst and Hall of Fame NBA great Charles Barkley. Barkley usually plays the comedic sidekick in the commercials, but Wade—with his fashion savvy and big smile—carries the two.

    In his Nike ads, he has completed a series of commercials endorsing his new shoe opposite comedian/actor Kevin Hart. Again, Wade does well. His latest showing of talent comes in the form of a prank coordinated with talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. Wade pulls off the prank quite well while ad-libbing where necessary to fool the fan.

    Kobe Bryant has the world-wide popularity to get started as a leading man in Hollywood, as well as the local address. Having played his entire professional career in front of Los Angeles and many of its biggest actors along courtside, he already has most of Hollywood as his fans.

    Bryant is very well spoken and speaks five languages. He, like Wade, has a gigantically magnetic smile. He doesn't have the commercial resume as large as Wade's, but has shown potential in the few spots he has acted in. He gained YouTube fame while promoting his new Nike shoe in 2008. He "supposedly" jumped over a moving Aston Martin against the advice of then-teammate Ronny Turiaf. It was an ad that got views from more than five million people and sparked a country-wide "did he really do it" debate.

    His latest show of potential is shown in a commercial for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops. He plays a player in the field shooting other players. His demeanor and movements are believable and facial expressions make you believe that with the right training, he too can be a leading man in Hollywood.

The Razie for Best Portrayel of a Horrible Comic: Ron Artest/Metta World Peace

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    I know there is a lockout instated currently in the NBA, but does that mean we, the fans, get tortured in the meantime? It's still summer—we haven't actually missed any basketball yet. What made Ron/Metta/Artest/Peace think he has the right to put us through such torment?

    Metta World Peace has launched a comedy tour called Ron Artest's Laff-tastic Comedy (the name is hard enough to swallow) where he is the host and new upcoming artists get a chance to showcase their talent. There is nothing wrong with hosting, but there is something wrong with trying to be a comedian when you aren't.

    He has only appeared in three projects, all of which he appeared as himself and hasn't had to play someone else. He's appeared live on Jimmy Kimmel, in a rap music video and in a couple documentaries.

    Being a popular NBA basketball star doesn't automatically mean you can transfer that following into Hollywood. You will get a shot because of your name, but if you don't have any talent to back it up, it will surely be a short-lived acting career. Metta's stage presence and MC skills were enough for me to confidently say that he should try and play basketball as long as he can.

    If he tries to take on the big screen after his playing days are over, it may be a mountain that climbing up the seats in Detroit and punching out fans won't prepare you for.

    I'm not very anxious to see if Ron, or Metta, can make me believe that he can play someone else. But then again, he may be playing someone different everyday. In that case, I'm glad he's not on the big screen.

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