Playing the Hollywood game
By Rob Ryder
Special to Page 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: You might not have realized it, but you've seen Rob Ryder's work in the movies: "White Men Can't Jump," "Blue Chips," "The Sixth Man," "Celtic Pride." The list goes on. When a basketball scene makes it to the big screen, chances are it's there thanks to Ryder. A former player at Princeton, he was a teammate of Geoff Petrie under Pete Carril. Today, his "Hollywood Jock" column debuts on Page 2. It's a serial look from an insider that chronicles the making of Hollywood sports movies and life in the cinematic fast lane.

Pookey's late. I figure it's another case of CPT. That's blackspeak for Colored People's Time. Not a phrase I'd ever use in public, being a white guy. It is a cultural phenomenon, though, so I guess it's cool to mention it in this context. But it's like the 'N' word -- you don't go near it in company. Never ever, no matter how much the brothers are slinging it around. Black people get touchy when white folks cross lines.

Whoopi Goldberg
It can't get any worse for the Knicks than this.
Like hooping at the Hollywood Y during the O.J. trial. A mere suggestion that he'd done it (hey, Romey, we actually agree for once) and suddenly the most rational, intelligent African-Americans I'd ever known are jumping down my throat. Don't go there -- you're likely to lose your tonsils.

Or when Kurt Rambis and I were supervising the b-ball on that piece-of-crap Whoopi Goldberg flick, "Eddie." Greg Ostertag, the epitome of a big white doofus, was horsing around on the set. Just entering the league out of KU and not exactly polished in the nuances of black/white interaction. He was throwing up 30 footers between camera setups and making a surprising numbers of them.

"Hey, can any uh y'all boys shoot like this?!" he shouted out to a handful of seasoned NBA vets standing at halfcourt. Mitch Richmond's eyes narrowed at the word "boys." Uh oh. I stepped forward and muttered, "Hey, Mitch, he went to Kansas."

"Yeah?"

"And he grew up in Snakesnot, Texas."

"So?"

"So let me put a word in, okay? Before he gets his clock cleaned."

Mitch considered and smiled. Mitch was a man.

Later, I introduced Greg to Brad Daugherty, a true gentleman and one of the great finesse NBA big men before back problems brought him down.

"Mr. Daugherty, have you got any words of advice for the young Mr. Ostertag here?"

Brad looked Greg up and down -- all 7-foot-1, 285 pounds of whitebread.

"Save your money," he said.

Eight years later, somehow, someway, Ostertag is still in the league, making more money in a season than Daugherty made most of his career.

So, yeah, Pookey's late. I'm running late, too, but only by 10 minutes (WPT). Striding along Melrose Avenue through the great saucy mix of hipster Los Angelenos -- every size, color and flavor, tattooed and pierced, the young women showing all that skin between their ya-ya's and their lowslung jeans. I fall in behind one -- a long, artistic tat running across the girl's lowest back, right above her fault line. I slow my pace and stay behind her for a block. Grrrrwl.

I find the entrance to 7551 Melrose, pound up the ratty stairs and stick my head into a threadbare office. A beautiful, exotic, tawny-skinned, long-limbed creature sits sorting press releases at a desk. I can just imagine the tat across her lower back.

"Are you Maya?"

"No. Are you?"

"No."

I stare at her. She stares back with big black serious eyes.

"I must be in the wrong place," I say.

"Again?" she asks.

"Yeah, again," I say, then (remembering my so-called career, which consisted mainly of asking millionaires half my age not to hang on the rims) add, "My whole life."

She suddenly smiles wide, revealing a great set of white teeth and a glint of braces.

"I'm Rasha," she says. "She's Maya."

I step inside the office and spot a second beautiful exotic woman. A couple years older perhaps. A couple inches shorter. Straight black hair, copper skin. She's talking into a headset, typing on a laptop. She's wearing a white shirt with that one extra button undone that can make a man's day. She's got a cast on her foot. She looks over and sees my eyes move from her buttons to her cast.

"Wild sex," she says by way of explanation, and I know I'm in the right place. Look, people have to work for a living -- we all know that. But it takes a guy like Pookey to understand: Let's at least put some juice in it. Spice it up a bit. Rasha turns out to be Egyptian; Maya, Indonesian. Welcome to L.A.

Pookey's got it going on. African-American, 5-foot-3 (literally), and one of the best ballers to ever come out of SoCal. He played at Ventura Juco with Cedric Ceballos, then went on to Seton Hall before blowing out his knee.

Chris Spencer
Chris Spencer is thankful for Magic's ability to make others look good.
Now he's back on his home turf, hustling for a living. Travel, real estate, entertainment. He's been producing Chocolate Sundaes at the Laugh Factory on Sunset every Sunday night for over a year now. Hosted by his childhood friend, Chris Spencer. Yeah, that Chris Spencer of the talk show "Vibe," who was the best example of how tough it is to host a talk show until Magic Johnson came along and made Chris look like Johnny.

Anyway, years ago, in my never-ending search for basketball players for the movies, I'd been given Pookey's number. I'd call him from Charlotte ("Eddie") -- he'd give me a couple names. I'd call him from Seattle ("The Sixth Man") -- he'd give me a couple names. I'd call him from Santa Monica ("White Men Can't Jump") -- ditto.

Like I said, Pookey's got it going on.

That's why I'm sitting in his office. I'm creating my exit strategy from the basketball movie supervising game. Trying to revive my last-gasp screenwriting career. And Pookey's gonna help me. (Only he doesn't know it yet.) So are Maya and Rasha. 'Cause they're sharp, these two. They're impressive, and so is Pookey for hiring them.

Maya hits Pookey on his two-way. He's 20 minutes out, finishing up a re-negotiation on a TV deal. So it isn't CPT. It's PPT (Producer People's Time -- something you'd better get used to if you're gonna play the Hollywood Shuffle). I'm happy to wait. In the company of these two women, Pookey can take his sweet blackass time. Rasha and Maya and I hit a nice riffing rhythm between phone calls, fax replies, birthday reminders and ticket requests.

And these things, I learn. Pookey's got an LLC (limited liability company). He's got a lawyer, but does a lot of his own negotiating. He's just finished talent-producing two TV variety shows. He's working on something new with the William Morris Agency. He owns houses in South Central and New Jersey and points in between. He's working on an elite, all-inclusive L.A. travel package. And he's still the same old Pookey.

Then we hear him on the stairs. Shouting up, "Honey, I'm home!" He appears in the doorway. I rise to greet him. He truly is 5-foot-3. Wearing a sleeveless denim shirt, baggy jeans, a big smile. He's rough, Pookey. He's not some smooth, polished dude. But I've had enough of them the last few years, black and white. I'm looking for an ally who gets things done.

We shake hands and share the obligatory one-shoulder hug. Then he pulls back and looks me up and down.

"Rob, my man, what've you got?"

"Two things," I say. "Let's sit down."

NEXT: PITCHING POOKEY, AND THE "BLUE CHIPS" NIGHTMARE.

Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works as a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at robryder@sbcglobal.net.





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