Seeing as they both operate in similar spaces, film and professional sports have had an interesting track record. While the transition between both doesn’t always work, many of the biggest movie stars of today started off as professional athletes, such as The Rock, John Cena, and Terry Crews.
One of the most popular sports leagues around the world, many NBA players have also found success on the silver screen, be that through thought-provoking dramas or iconic comedies. With Space Jam: A New Legacy about to fill movie theater seats, there are more than a few notable movies starring NBA players.
Uncle Drew Starring Kyrie Irving
Based on the viral Pepsi ads, starring Kyrie Irving as the eponymous character, Uncle Drew told the story of a legendary player getting his old team back together again to face off against a new basketball talent, played by Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon.
Starring other NBA icons such as Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller as his teammates, Uncle Drew is a fun, breezy treat for basketball fans. While the story isn’t much to write home about, the infectious fun of seeing these players gently poking fun at each other makes this well worth a watch for NBA players.
Like Mike With Dirk Nowitzki and Allen Iverson
This 2002 family comedy stars Lil Bow Wow as an orphaned child, who becomes an NBA sensation when a magic pair of Michael Jordan’s basketball shoes gives him superstar talents. As he leads his hometown team on their hunt for the playoffs, he starts to develop a relationship with the team’s superstar.
With a heartwarming premise and many appearances by famous NBA players, such as Dirk Nowitzki and Allen Iverson, Like Mike is a sweet family comedy that has stood the test of time for NBA fans.
Trainwreck With LeBron James
Amy Schumer’s hit 2015 movie, Trainwreck, told the story of a single woman who fell in love with Aaron, a sports doctor played by Bill Hader. The film contains many supporting performances from various well-known personalities, including LeBron James in his on-screen debut.
One of the most acclaimed comedies of the year, LeBron James’ performance was often singled out as one of the best aspects of the film. Showing a real talent for comedy, LeBron proved that acting was another activity that he could put his talents to.
Airplane! Starring Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Jabbar stunned audiences with his comic timing in his appearance in this 1980 parody film. He played a pilot named Roger Murdock who was obviously undercover since he is recognized at the cockpit by a child who then goes on to reveal how his father criticizes Jabbar’s defense strategies.
Jabbar was also given good lines which were pithy and designed to fit his subtle comedic style. Despite being criticized as a corny and sophomoric parody film, Airplane! did have its moments and Jabbar’s scene was definitely one of the best ones in the film.
He Got Game Starring Ray Allen
Spike Lee’s drama He Got Game follows an incarcerated father as he tries to convince his basketball-phenom son to join the prison warden’s alma mater in order to get a reduced sentence. As the pressure builds on him to commit to a college, he must choose between fame and his father.
Starring Denzel Washington and NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen as the main father-son duo, Lee’s drama is an intimate and affecting drama, with strong performances from both of its stars.
In this beloved 1996 live-action/animated family film, Michael Jordan is abducted into the world of the Looney Tunes and is forced to lead the Tune Squad to victory against the Monstars to save an amusement park. Meanwhile, the sports world falls into disarray due to the talent and skills of 5 major NBA players just disappearing.
While some have argued that the film hasn’t aged well over the years, the film’s inventive premise and the fun turns from its NBA superstars ensure that this stays harmless family fun that will inspire some nostalgia in basketball fans.
My Giant Starring Gheorghe Mureșan
My Giant does not exactly resemble the successful movies featuring gentle giants because it’s not a fantasy film. It’s definitely interesting because despite being cluttered with too many subplots, the film makes good use of Gheorghe Mureșan’s potential. The film focuses on a very tall man who meets a talent agent, who tries to make him a star.
The Michael Lehmann film has a lot of heart and Muresan’s chemistry with Billy Crystal definitely helps the film fare better. However, despite finding a balance between comedy and drama, the film did need some tightening up.
Blue Chips Starring Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway
Directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist), this 1994 film tells the story of a college basketball coach trying his best to turn his program around into a winning program. Slowly, he starts to realize that he has to bend some rules to succeed.
Starring Magic teammates Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, Blue Chips embeds its true story with gravitas and emotional resonance. While initially passed off by critics, Blue Chips has slowly become seen as underrated due in part to the performances by the cast.
Kazaam Starring Shaquille O’Neal
Kazaam is perhaps one of the most talked-about children’s movies of the nineties. Despite the negative reviews and flawed story-telling, O’Neal’s genie was innately likeable. Unlike Blue Chips, this movie did not need O’Neal to prove his acting mettle but to flex his star power in subtle ways.
Of course, the genie had to be a major celebrity in an otherwise mediocre movie but no one expected O’Neal to play an endearing genie so well and his performance is also a big reason behind the film’s cult status.
The Perfect Score With Darius Miles
Starring pre-Avengers Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson, this thriller is about a group of teenagers who plan to steal the answers to the SAT, ensuring that they get into their dream colleges. One of these teenagers is a basketball player trying to get into his dream school, played by NBA player Darius Miles.
The film contains some fun performances from its leads that show glimpses of the charisma later projects would expound upon. Though Darius Miles isn’t as well-remembered as much as other NBA players, this is one of the stronger acting performances given by an NBA player.
Conan the Destroyer Starring Wilt Chamberlain
In the sequel to Conan the Barbarian, Conan leads a group of warriors to protect a powerful princess from various foes, at the request of a powerful witch. One of these foes is Bombaata, portrayed by NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain.
While the film has been criticized for its cheesiness and campy tone, the film is enjoyable if only for having Chamberlain’s sole film role. Chamberlain is obviously having fun in the role and adds a sense of menace to his character.
The Female Brain
Whitney Cummings’ directorial debut, The Female Brain, tells the story of a neurosurgeon whose explorations into the differences between the male and female brain dictate how she perceives life and love.
While some critics argued that the film felt familiar and formulaic, others appreciated Cummings’ emerging talent shown both in front and behind the camera, as well as the supporting performances, including one from Clippers legend Blake Griffin. While Griffin has shown a knack for comedy and performing since then, this was his first real showcase.
Thunderstuck – Starring Kevin Durant
Thunderstuck most likely will never make it to the list of the best sports movies of all time, but it only has its outrageous premise to blame for it. Durant played himself in this 2012 film before leaving Oklahoma City and this body-switch comedy may have worked if it was designed like a run-of-the-mill fantasy comedy like Freaky Friday.
But director John Whitesell’s efforts to incorporate realism did spoil the plot. The film follows a 16-year-old who basically switches skills with Durant, causing the athlete to lose some major games. However Thunderstuck is definitely entertaining and for fans who’re aware of supersitions in certain sports circles, the film may even be somewhat plausible.
Uncut Gems Starring Kevin Garnett
The newest outing from the Safdie Brothers follows a man whose gambling addiction leads him down a never-ending path of destruction. While the film juggles many different plots, one of the main stories involves a gem that Kevin Garnett wants, as he believes it will be his good luck charm for the Celtics’ 2012 playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
One of the best films of the past decade, Uncut Gems is a masterfully tense thriller, filled with great performances, including one from Garnett. Garnett’s notably natural sense of line delivery helps imbue the film with a sense of realism.
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