Can the Jock score with the King?
By Rob Ryder
Special to Page 2

I've got a handful of projects, and I need to make a score. Nigel calls -- he's coordinating a Playstation commercial with Gary Payton and Ray Allen, and he wants me to stop by. I pick up the 110 South off the Hollywood Freeway and grind past the towers of downtown L.A. Off at 9th, west on Olympic and I see the trucks.

I park my car, grab my bag and walk along the chain-link fence, surveying the scene. It's low-key, a smattering of crew members, ad agency reps -- cameras, cables, video monitors under the hot hazy sun. Gary Payton is alone on the sloping asphalt court, shooting little jumpers, bang bang bang -- ball through chain. He's in a rhythm and he doesn't miss. He's got that aura -- a pro's pro.

Gary Payton
Gary Payton's in demand -- on movie sets and commerical shoots.
I spot Nigel. I wait until the A.D. yells, "Cut!" and I step through the gate and head right past Payton. I met Gary years ago, on that turkey called "Eddie." You know, the one where Whoopi coaches the Knicks. It was supposed to be a comedy, but you wouldn't know it by the too-many-screenwriters script; plus, someone forgot to tell the director.

Anyway, we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, pulling together this imaginary Knicks team. It was the NBA summer lockout (1998), and Kurt Rambis and I were handling the hoops. NBA management made it clear to Disney and the producers: While the lockout is on, it's either us or the players. Somehow, a movie where Whoopi Goldberg bursts into the locker room and shouts out, "How's it hanging?!" and you cut to a naked David Stern instead of John Salley wasn't exactly what anybody had in mind, so Disney went with the players (although Walt would've rolled in his grave either way).

In retrospect, it's too bad the NBA didn't shut us down entirely and save the movie-going public from one more half-baked sports comedy. And if you think I've just got a personal ax to grind, here's what Mr. Cranky (the internet critic) had to say: " 'Eddie' is a good example of the utter bankruptcy of creativity and originality that is Hollywood. This film has all the energy of a rotting corpse." See, I'm not alone.

Rambis was done as a player but not yet hired as a coach, so he was free to work on the movie. Years later, down in Dallas with the Mavericks, Del Harris said to me, "You know, I was supposed to do that movie; but because of the lockout, Rambis replaced me. Then he did it again for real (as Lakers head coach) the very next year."

Del seemed pissed about it. But the truth is, neither of those guys could run the psych game with Shaquille O'Neal.

Kurt had a helluva rolodex though, and this imaginary Knicks team was coming together -- John Salley, Rick Fox, Malik Sealy (R.I.P.), Dwayne Schintzius (remember him?) and Greg Ostertag. But we still needed a point guard. The producer, Mark Burg (who Ron Shelton once slammed up against a wall during the shooting of "Bull Durham"), wanted Gary Payton in the worst way. I had my doubts. Movie shoots are long and tedious, and Payton didn't suffer fools gladly (which would've made this movie particularly tough on him).

We were working out in a practice gym -- Salley, Fox, Ostertag, Sealy, Schintzius. And I was thinking, Spike Lee is gonna bug when he sees these guys portraying his beloved Knicks. But given who the Knicks have been putting on the floor lately, our guys just might've eaten their lunch. Anyway, Rambis and I were choreographing some plays. It was all loosey-goosey, lots of laughter, when suddenly the double doors swung open. It was Gary Payton; and that fast, the vibe changed.

Whoopi Goldberg & Dwayne Schintzius
Dwayne Schintzius might be able to help the current Knicks.
Payton's a thoroughbred -- high-strung, tightly wound, quick to bristle. He walked in, said a few quiet hellos, went into a brief conference with the producers, took one more look at the players on the floor and walked out the door. Good decision. That afternoon, Kurt called Mark Jackson and we had ourselves a point guard.

Back on the commercial set, I slide past Payton (no sense trying to say hello right now -- he wouldn't remember, he wouldn't care) and head for Nigel. Nigel's 6-foot-6, slim and dark-skinned, his head shaved. He's from Belize and played at UCLA. He always wears shades and always plays things cool and quiet. We shake hands, bump shoulders.

"Rob," he says, "this is Eric Goodwin."

I shake hands with the handsome, well-built black man. He's dressed sharp in baggy designer pants and a knit top. His head is shaved, his manner direct. His brother, Aaron, is his identical twin, and they've pulled off the coup of the year: They represent LeBron James.

"How you doin'?" asks Eric.

"Not as good as you," I reply.

Nigel says, "Rob's got that project I was telling you about: '94 Feet of Hell.' About that one college game?"

"Oh, yeah. Yeah," says Eric.

"If you guys are looking to do some movie production, get LeBron involved, this is a great place to start," I say, thinking I'd better blurt it out fast since I don't know how much time he'll give me. "For one, it's pure hoops -- a hardcore, inside look at the game. For two, it's a quick shoot, under three weeks next summer, so you wouldn't be tied up for too long. Plus, it's basketball, man -- a great place for LeBron to work up his acting chops. It's what he knows; it's where he's comfortable." (I almost say it's also a great place for him to get a taste of college ball since he's straight out of high school, but I leave that out.) "Plus, we'll put together some of the best young players in the world so he'll be able to work out every day."

"Just like in 'Blue Chips'," says Nigel.

"Yeah," I add. "We had 14 first-round draft picks in that movie."

Bobby Hurley
Remember Bobby Hurley? Cursed by "Blue Chips"?
Eric Goodwin smiles and says, "The 'Blue Chips' curse."

"How's that?" I ask.

"Thomas Hill. Rex Walters. Adonis Jordan. Ed Stokes. Eric Riley. They all disappeared."

"Not to mention Bobby Hurley," says Nigel, and I'm thinking, Oh, man, ease up; don't turn this into a train wreck by association here.

"Somehow," I say, "I don't think that's gonna be LeBron's problem."

Eric Goodwin smiles. When you've got a client like LeBron James, you want to navigate his career course very carefully. "It sounds good," says Eric. "But you know, we're just feeling our way right now."

I deflate a bit.

"Rob's tight with Ron Shelton," says Nigel.

"That's good. Ron Shelton, he's got that touch, you know what I mean? That's the kind of director we'd want for LeBron."

And I'm thinking, Yeah, yeah, here it comes. And sure enough, here it comes.

"Any chance you could put us together with Ron?" asks Eric. "You know, LeBron, me, my brother. Just to talk."

"Sure," I say. "Let me run it by him."

I'm thinking Ron will be open to this -- sitting down in his office one morning with the most acclaimed player ever to come straight out of high school.

"Good," says Eric.

LeBron James
Might LeBron be coming to a theater near you in the near future?
The crew is breaking down the set -- moving to a new location.

Eric, Nigel and I start walking to a trailer, and the clock is ticking. "Look," I say. "You guys are gonna be entertaining a lot of movie possibilities. But this one's clean. It's direct. And it's not some lame comedy. Plus, with LeBron in it and you guys involved as producers, we can go straight to Turner or ESPN, and you know they're gonna jump at it."

"You got the script?" asks Nigel.

I pull it out of my bag. "By the way," I ask Eric, "Do you know Pookey Wigington?"

"Pookey?" says Eric. "Sure, I just talked to Pookey yesterday. Pookey's the man. Why?"

"Oh, Pookey and I are working on something together."

"Cool," says Eric.

I hand him the script.

"I'll read it this weekend," he says.

*****

A personal note, from an earlier chapter: In "White Men Can't Jump," Woody Harrelson finally dunked against Eddie "The King" Faroo and Duck Johnson (played by Louis Price and Freeman Williams), not Duane Martin and Nigel Miguel as I had mis-remembered it. Thanks to several readers for pointing it out. Freeman Williams was one of the greatest scorers in NCAA history, averaging 38.8 points a game in 1976-'77 for Portland State. His long-range jumper had virtually no back spin. After six years in the NBA, he had to borrow bus fare to get to the set of "White Men." But, happily, he's back on his feet again.

NEXT: Ray Allen and exploding Cadillacs.

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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