The Big Dance tips off Thursday around noon as March Madness gets into high gear for its annual blitzkrieg of basketball across the nation. The college basketball tournament is an event that provides magical moments and creates future stars of the NBA, you might say the drama is very movie-like.
Hundreds of players taking to the court this week are hoping the tourney serves as a type of audition for NBA teams. Some make it to the pros, some don’t, and a very small amount of players end up nailing auditions of another kind all together down the road. Hooked on the rush of celebrity they try to become actors. I’m sure many have tried to act, but like a 15th seed few have made it past the first round.
The roster is thin, but here are the college hoop stars who have made it in Hollywood after shining on the hard courts of March.
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar: Known as Lew Alcindor in college, Jabaar played a little ball at UCLA to the tune of 3 national championships, 3 First Team All-American nods and 2 Player of The Year awards. After school he managed to eek out a 20 year Hall-of-Fame career in the NBA. More importantly, Jabaar used his athletic fame to segway on to the silver screen. After a few guest appearances on classic shows like Mannix and Emergency!, Kareem hit it big on the silver screen as Murdock, the pilot who just happens to look like All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, in the comedy cult classic Airplane! (one of my favorite’s of all time). Over the years he’s continued his relationship with Hollywood appearing in popular shows like Different Strokes, Tales From The Darkside and 21 Jump Street. One of the coolest things about Jabaar’s acting career is that he’s in Bruce Lee’s final film, Game of Death. That’s as cool as a game winning sky hook.
Ray Allen: As a Georgetown fan I constantly rooted against Ray Allen when he was at UConn in the mid-90s. I really rooted against him when he & his Huskies won the ’96 Big East Championship over Georgetown by one freakin’ point. I became a big Ray Allen fan in 1998 when he starred opposite Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s He Got Game. Allen shined as Jesus Shuttlesworth and if he wasn’t so occupied lighting up the NBA from 3 til 2014 he may have been the Fred Dryer of basketball. I’m sure sharing the screen with a young Milla Jovovich and a young Rosario Dawson must have made Ray think about a life in Hollywood. Ray returned to the silver screen a few years after He Got Game with a role in Harvard Man which starred Sarah Michelle Gellar & Joey Lauren Adams. I never saw this flick but I am a fan of hot chics with three names and it is rated R so maybe there’s some nudity. I’ll have to peep it.
Shaquille O’Neil: Whoever says size doesn’t matter has never watched porn nor ever played center in Division 1 basketball. Sweet Chocolate Shaquille, as us kids from the burbs used to call him, dominated college basketball from the second he set foot on the LSU campus. Along with fellow big man Stanley Roberts and top point guard Chris Jackson (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), Shaq helped LSU dominate the SEC and well, you all know what he did in the NBA. Shaq was already a star when he was drafted by the Orlando Magic and it didn’t take him long to expand his brand into Hollywood. Most people point to horrible movies like Kazaam & Steel when they think of Shaq’s acting career but clearly the best movie he was in is Blue Chips we’re he played, well, essentially himself in heavily sought after big man Neon. The Nick Nolte led film is actually pretty good and on par with the view of collegiate athletics recruitment much like The Program was on par with the drug & rape culture of collegiate football. Co-starring with Shaq was fellow Orlando Magic Penny Hardaway who went on to star in the ‘Lil Penny Nike ads.
Rick Fox: Fox definitely won a lot of “I married a hotter chic than all of you” in NBA locker rooms during his playing days. The former North Carolina Tar Heel was with Vanessa L Williams for a long time. Williams was a former Miss America, accomplished singer, actress and one of the key components in my own personal porn collection from my youth. Her black & whites from her Penthouse spread are extremely precious to me. But back to Fox. Although never a national champion Fox was no stranger to the tourney during his years at UNC having made the Final Four once, the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 each season of his collegiate career which in the Dean Smith days was pretty standard. Drafted by the Celtics and later winning NBA titles with the Lakers Fox had what you’d call a pretty successful pro career, yet before his days on the court were over Fox began his after-basketball career of acting. Fox’s good looks certainly helped. His film debut was in the aforementioned Blue Chips & He Got Game also squeezing in a role in the Whoopi Goldberg film Eddie in between. His first real major role coincided with his move to LA to play for the Lakers with a recurring character on the hit HBO series OZ. Over the years he’s had recurring roles on shows such as One Tree Hill, Dirt and Ugly Betty. Most recently Fox shined as a local tough doing coke with William H. Macy on my new favorite show Shameless which I highly recommend.
Honorable Mentions: Patrick Ewing (Georgetown, National Champion ’84) as an angel in The Exorcist III and Allan Houston (Tennessee) in Black & White, a solid flick where his character’s girlfriend is played by Claudia Schiffer.