We’re in peak sports season right now. The World Series begins tonight, the NHL is well into its new season, the NFL is just shy of its midway point, and the NBA has just returned and is in full effect. We’re not even a week into this fresh basketball season and we already have brawls breaking out in Los Angeles, Lebron James debuting for the Lakers, and Atlanta Hawks rookie Trae Young flashing the same signs of greatness he showcased at the University of Oklahoma. As I hope and pray that any other team can dethrone the Golden State Warriors, it’s exciting to see where this new season will go. It’s a great time to be a basketball fan.
If you’re a fan of film’s convergence with basketball, then you’re about to have an even greater time. The Hollywood Reporter reports that NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal will be entering awards races as the producer of Killer Bees, a documentary feature about Bridgehampton High School’s 2015 basketball team. THR describes the film as a look at the “Killer Bees” defending their state championship while they are “simultaneously confronted with racism, gentrification, and income inequality.”
The documentary premiered earlier this summer (to mostly positive reviews) and is available to watch now on VOD (including on the free-to-borrow public library streaming service Hoopla), but according to THR, the film will also screen this Wednesday in Hollywood for friends, family, and members of the Academy’s documentary branch in hopes of garnering an Oscar nomination.
O’Neal is no stranger to the film industry. In the mid-’90s, he infamously starred as the titular characters in Kazaam and Steel, two films with embarrassingly low Rotten Tomatoes scores. Most recently, he appeared in the Pepsi commercial adaptation Uncle Drew. Apart from acting, he previously executive produced Steps, a faith-based drama, and A Week in Watts, a documentary about a mentorship program between Los Angeles Police Officers and students in the neighborhood of Watts.
This relationship between basketball and Hollywood is obviously not new. Basketball movies like Hoosiers, White Men Can’t Jump, and Coach Carter are classics, beloved by basketball and film fans alike for their dramatic, humanistic takes on the cherished sport. Moreover, the relationship between basketball players and film isn’t new, but it seems to be changing. In 1998, sharpshooting legend Ray Allen starred as the iconic Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee’s He Got Game and in 1996, GOAT Michael Jordan starred in the Looney Tunes’ classic Space Jam. All of these films are loved for different reasons.
Nevertheless, basketball players are looking to favor producing to acting. Take Kobe Bryant. A legend. A five-time champion, former MVP, and multiple-record holder, Bryant has nearly accomplished it all in basketball. Now, he looks toward storytelling to scratch his creative itch. Last year, he teamed up with Disney animator Glen Keane and music legend John Williams to produce Dear Basketball, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. He also produced the Showtime documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse in 2015 and currently produces and narrates ESPN’s Detail, which breaks down the ways basketball is played. Now, Bryant is producing a children’s storytelling podcast called The Punies, which shares important life lessons through the world of sports.
Apart from Bryant and O’Neal, other basketball stars are looking to break into Hollywood. Lebron James appeared in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck in 2015 and has co-founded Springhill Entertainment, which is set to produce the James-led Space Jam 2 and has already produced the Starz football docu-series Warriors of Liberty City, NBC’s The Wall, and the James-centered documentary More Than a Game, among others. According to Variety, basketball stars such as Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade, among others, have developed their own film productions with hopes of developing films and television series in relation to both basketball and general life.
It’s interesting to see how basketball players are engaging in a medium other than their sport, branching out in creativity, using their wealth and status to develop engaging, thoughtful, and important stories.