NBA Players and Their Acting Counterparts
This article won’t tell you what a great season Stephen Curry is having. It won’t break down whether David Lee’s offense outweighs his defense, if Klay Thompson can learn to finish at the rim or how Andrew Bogut’s presence may propel the Warriors into the second round of the playoffs.
What it will do is help pass the time if you’re bored at work, tired of talking to your family or can’t fall asleep.
Let’s start with some Warriors before moving on to the all-time greats.
Stephen Curry ≈ Ryan Gosling
Two young up-and-comers. Could be great. The ladies love their looks. Both started their careers at a young age – Curry shooting around at NBA arenas with his dad, Gosling on the Mickey Mouse Club.
Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin) ≈ Eddie Murphy, Sean Connery, Matt Damon
Like Murphy, Hardaway’s career started with a bang. He was a star until injuries derailed him. Bad choices derailed Murphy. Hardaway had the crossover. Murphy had the laugh.
“The Rock” Richmond and Connery only because of this.
Mullin and Damon quietly go about their business, do great work and have the respect of everyone who encounters them. And Damon can rock a short buzz cut as well as Mully.
Hank Gathers ≈ River Phoenix
Len Bias ≈ James Dean
Very sad ends to potentially great careers. Dean and Bias have received more attention for their accomplishments while the work of Gathers and Phoenix is sometimes forgotten. Phoenix was a standout in everything he did, but his work in the relatively unknown “Dogfight” makes me think he could have been one of the all-time greats.
Scottie Pippen ≈ Don Cheadle
The Scene-Stealing Sidekicks. No one can grab the spotlight from stars like Michael Jordan or Denzel Washington. Well, except these two guys.
Bill Russell ≈ Will Smith
The most rings. The most box office hits. Also, Bill and Will dominated those two categories in an era that had been exclusively reserved for white men.
Tim Duncan ≈ Philip Seymour Hoffman ≈ Paul Giamatti
Brilliant, but you don’t watch the NBA or a movie just because of them. But you know what? You should.
Hakeem Olajuwon ≈ Morgan Freeman
They had late starts to their careers but consistently churned out great performance after great performance after great performance. Olajuwon did not touch a basketball until the age of 15. Freeman didn’t get his first break until the age of 52 with the trifecta of Lean On Me, Glory and Driving Miss Daisy in 1989.
Charles Oakley ≈ Samuel L. Jackson
The two baddest muthaf*!@ers in their respective businesses. That is all.
Walt Frazier ≈ Paul Newman
Clyde and Cool Hand Luke. The coolest to ever do it.
Dwyane Wade ≈ Mark Wahlberg
No real reason for this match. It just feels right. But if a 1991-era clip surfaces on YouTube of Wade sporting a backwards hat while bench-pressing in a music video, just remember you heard it here first.
Dr. J ≈ Al Pacino
The ultimate showmen. Because of their exciting exploits, you forget just how good they are at their crafts. Dr. J with his nickname, afro and dunks. Pacino snorting mountains of coke and talking about sticking your head all the way up a great ass. Those things tend to overshadow the more serious stuff.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ≈ Anthony Hopkins
So great but you always forget them. When you think of them, you think old and uninteresting.
Kevin Garnett ≈ Tom Cruise
You can win a title or crush it at the box office with them, but make no mistake; these guys are crazy. They’ll jump on your coach like a little girl, tell you that your wife’s reproductive organs smell like Honey Nut Cheerios, pay a young actress to be their wife or ask Craig Sager if he’s ever been in a bar fight. One believes in aliens while the other looks like The Alien.
Jerry West ≈ George Clooney
Clean cut guys that everyone respects. Amazing performers as well.
Shaquille O’Neal ≈ Jack Nicholson
Great when they tried hard (Shaq from 1993-2003; Jack from 1973-83), but enjoyed things outside of their profession too much and got fat.
Kobe Bryant ≈ Sean Penn
Serious guys that work very hard. Gained more and more respect as their careers went on. If you cross them or take their respective business lightly, they want to destroy you – ask Chris Rock when he slandered Jude Law at the Oscars or Smush Parker when he dared share the floor with Kobe.
LeBron James ≈ Leonardo DiCaprio
Young talented guys that are now finally being serious and destroying the competition. They will go down as one of best ever in their professions. They each started off as prodigies and actually produced as adults. LeBron being one of the first high school athletes whose games were regularly featured on ESPN. Leo blowing people’s minds in “A Boy’s Life” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Their most recent work is historical – LeBron averaging 27 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists as a lock-down defender and carrying his team to 27 straight wins. Leo absolutely nailing what was arguably one of the most challenging acting roles ever in “Django Unchained.”
Wilt Chamberlain ≈ Marlon Brando
Great against weak competition. Each had one of the all-time great individual performances – “I coulda been a contender” and the 100-point game. Each also had a great long-term impact – Brando completely changed the acting game (as Martin Scorsese said, “There’s ‘before Brando’ and ‘after-Brando’”) and Wilt slept with over 20,000 women.
Larry Bird ≈ Daniel Day-Lewis
Neither of these guys were/have been able to sustain a full-time career because of the amount of damage they inflict on themselves while working. Bird’s injuries shortened his career. When healthy, he was a near-perfect basketball player. But he played through his injuries and it impacted his performance as his career went on. Day-Lewis completely loses himself in his characters causing both mental and physical strain. Unlike Bird, Day-Lewis does not continually push through the strain. He chooses to work once every few years, making each performance an amazing one. As a result, both Bird and Day-Lewis have had shortened careers compared to their peers. But we’ll always have Bird in 1986 and Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot.”
Magic Johnson ≈ Denzel Washington
Each could be dubbed “The Man.” Everyone loves them. Likable, great performers. Their smiles are legendary, but what you remember most is how they acted during the worst times. Magic announcing he had HIV and Denzel in “Glory” shedding the long streaming tear that refuses to fall from his chin.
Michael Jordan ≈ Robert De Niro
Calling MJ the greatest is much easier and less arguable than calling De Niro the greatest. But what clinched it for me was this: Like Jordan’s career, De Niro’s late 70s-early 80s run of Mean Streets/Godfather II/Taxi Driver/Deer Hunter/Raging Bull will never be matched. He had some misses, but stayed strong with King of Comedy/Untouchables/Midnight Run/Goodfellas/Heat. And I will put his performance in “Awakenings” against any other. Like MJ winning the title by setting up his teammates, De Niro did something completely different with “Awakenings.” Late in life, each has made some regrettable decisions. MJ with his management and clothing options; De Niro with Fockers, Showtime, 15 Minutes, Righteous Kill, etc. But De Niro’s role in “Silver Linings Playbook” may just mean there’s hope for the aging Jordan yet.