Culture

And we use the term "acting" very loosely.

A Definitive Ranking of NBA Stars Acting in Movies and TV

This week, Kyrie Irving — AKA the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, five-time All-Star, and 2012 Rookie of the Year — is accomplishing a feat that’s even more rare in NBA circles than bringing a ring to Cleveland: getting his very own Hollywood star vehicle.

That’d be Uncle Drew, which sees Irving play an aging streetball legend who’s extremely good at basketball, drops inspirational T-shirt wisdom1 in addition to filthy crossovers, and presumably also believes the Earth is flat. In the movie adaptation of the acclaimed series of Pepsi Max commercials,2 Irving assembles his very own grey-haired squad — Shaquille O’Neal (more on him later), Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie — to try to win a streetball tournament at New York’s Rucker Park.

But Irving’s far from the only NBA star to go Hollywood. So, in honor of Uncle Drew hitting theatres, I’ve attempted to power rank the best NBA athletes-turned-actors to determine who’s the sport’s greatest two-way star.

The Glorified Walk-Ons

30. Tony Parker

Resume: Asterix at the Olympic Games (2008)

Scouting Report: You would think that his brief marriage to actress Eva Longoria would’ve given the Spurs guard an easy in to Hollywood, but you would be wrong. Parker’s acting skills include smooth handles and the ability to successfully rock a toga, but that’s about it.

Career Highlight: A wordless, one-minute cameo as “Tonus Parker” in the 2008 French comedy Asterix at the Olympic Games.

29. Jason Kidd

Resume: Like Mike (2002)

Scouting Report: Kidd has the second-most assists in NBA history, the third-most triple-doubles, and a ring, but he’s never been a very good actor.

Career Highlight: Getting sonned by Lil’ Bow Wow.

28. Isaiah Thomas

Resume: Law & Order: SVU (2017)

Scouting Report: Hard to say which was shorter: Isaiah Thomas’ stint on the Cavs, or his acting career, which amounts to one 30-second cameo on Law & Order. Probably because he required cue cards to remember his four total lines.

Career Highlight: Cue cards, bruh? Cue cards?! At least he wasn’t playing a body.

27. Dirk Nowitzki

Resume: Like Mike (2002), Punk’d (2005), The Cleveland Show (2011), Conan (2014)

Scouting Report: The sweet-shooting seven-footer with the unguardable fadeaway helped revolutionize the NBA, challenging years of commonly-held stereotypes: that big men shouldn’t shoot threes, that Euro players can’t become superstars, and that Germans aren’t funny.

Career Highlight: Dirk didn’t even need an assist from his then-teammate Steve Nash — he managed to set himself up for Like Mike’s best joke.

26. Dwight Howard

Resume: Just Wright (2010), The Three Stooges (2012), Free Birds (2013), Amazing3 (2013)

Scouting Report: Howard is basically a try-hard theatre kid in a 6’11” center’s body. And unfortunately, while he may love LA, LA doesn’t love him. Skills include impersonations and physical comedy, but he’s just not “likable enough.”

Career Highlight: Getting physical in the paint with the Three Stooges.

25. Kobe Bryant

Resume: Sister, Sister (1996), Modern Family (2010), Daddy’s Home (2015)

Scouting Report: I’m actually a little surprised Kobe’s reel is so light, considering he’s basically LA royalty and spent forty games a year rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s A-list. That said, he’s the only one on this list with an Oscar, so point Mamba.

Career Highlight: Giving pre-game pointers to the Dunphys on Modern Family.

24. Kevin McHale

Resume: Cheers

Scouting Report: McHale’s acting career amounts to guest-starring as himself in two episodes of Cheers, but the Celtics great managed to hold his own, trading one-liners with Woody Harrelson and taking digs at his teammates. Even if he was so tall, he essentially had to keep bending down to stay in the shot.

Career Highlight: Tending bar at a place where everybody knew his name.

The Space Jam Bracket

23. Larry Johnson
22. Shawn Bradley
21. Patrick Ewing
20. Muggsy Bogues
19. Charles Barkley

Scouting Report: Bogues would go on to have a longer acting career (including a memorable cameo on Curb Your Enthusiasm), but Barkley was Space Jam’s clear non-Jordan MVP. Sir Charles does it all: drama, comedy, even a brief monologue. Also, it’s extremely enjoyable to watch him get trash-talked off the court by a teenage girl.

Career Highlight: This shockingly well-acted montage.

Role Players Contributing Valuable Minutes

18. Karl Malone

Resume: Rockwell (1994), Nash Bridges (1998), Soul Plane (2004), After the Sunset (2004)

Scouting Report: Karl Malone was called the Mailman because he “always delivered.” On screen, the only thing he delivered was an extremely wooden performance.

Career Highlight: Playing an INS agent attempting to arrest Jose Canseco on a very special episode of Nash Bridges.

17. Metta World Peace

Resume: Dancing with the Stars (2011), Think Like a Man (2012), Key & Peele (2013), Celebrity Big Brother (2018), this completely bizarre local weather report

Scouting Report: It’s probably fitting that Metta’s credits lean more towards reality shows than scripted television, considering his on-court persona was basically a walking reality series. As an actor and a player, you were never quite sure what he was doing, but you knew not to look away.

Career Highlight: His recurring role as a completely incoherent newscaster on Key & Peele.

16. Detlef Schrempf

Resume: Parks and Recreation (2010)

Scouting Report: All due respect to Larry Bird and his Aunt Tilda, but everyone knows Detlef is the true NBA MVP of Parks and Rec. His first appearance on the Indiana-set sitcom went so well, the show basically turned the Pacers legend into a recurring character. (Yes, I’m counting three appearances as recurring. What?)

Career Highlight: Throwing down alley-oops with Jean-Ralphio and Roy Hibbert.

15. John Salley

Resume: Bad Boys (1995), Eddie (1996), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (2000), Bad Boys II (2003), Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)

Scouting Report: Salley’s credits include “NBA Player,” “Retired NBA Player,” and “John Salley,” which is your standard former NBA actor fare. But one of Detroit’s former Bad Boys also starred in both Bad Boys movies as a nerdy computer hacker with Coke bottle glasses, and that’s also the type of role they normally give to actual professionals. That counts for something.

Career Highlight: Going toe-to-toe with Martin Lawrence.

The One-And-Dones

14. Gheorghe Mureșan

Resume: My Giant (1998)

Scouting Report: Doing a buddy comedy with Billy Crystal in 1998 is the kind of thing that could successfully launch an acting career, but the 7’7” Romanian center didn’t exactly earn rave reviews.

Career Highlight: Subtweeting Michael Jordan Cologne for a Snickers commercial.

13. Kevin Durant

Resume: Thunderstruck (2012)

Scouting Report: I’m not saying that Thunderstruck — a hokey family comedy where Durant magically swaps basketball skills with a 16-year-old water boy — was so bad that it convinced KD to leave OKC for the Warriors, but I’m not not saying it either. It did convince Durant to quit acting though, so at least there’s that.

Career Highlight: Getting paid to miss jump shots on purpose.

12. Darius Miles

Resume: Van Wilder (2002), The Perfect Score (2004)

Scouting Report: With a promising NBA career cut short by a knee injury, Miles was always a “what if” talent. And the same goes for his acting career. The former Clipper went from a cameo in Van Wilder to a legitimately decent starring role in the SAT heist movie The Perfect Score to early retirement.

Career Highlight: Getting to “well, actually” future Avengers Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.

11. Wilt Chamberlain

Resume: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Scouting Report: I have no idea what could have possibly possessed producers to cast Chamberlain –who had zero previous acting experience — in a starring role opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1984 Conan the Barbariansequel, but I have a feeling it probably had something to do with the fact that he was a 7’1”, 300-pound giant, and also that people were doing a lot of coke in Hollywood in the mid-‘80s.

Career Highlight: Getting his ass kicked by Grace Jones.

Putting Up Numbers on a Terrible Team 

10. Dennis Rodman

Resume: Double Team (1997), Simon Sez (1999), The Comebacks (2007)

Scouting Report: For a brief period during his Bulls heyday, Rodman attempted to turn go from on-court villain to off-court action hero, playing an arms dealer in the Van Damme bomb Double Team, which did so poorly at the box office, someone let him star in his own action/comedy alongside… Dane Cook. The late ‘90s were a weird time, OK? The less said about his current role as “Kim Jong-un enabler,” the better.

Career Highlight: Saving Jean-Claude Van Damme and a baby with a vending machine. (You can retire those Indiana Jones fridge jokes now.) 

9. Shaquille O’Neal

Resume: Blue Chips (1994), Kazaam (1996), Steel (1997), Scary Movie 4 (2006), Grown Ups 2 (2013), Uncle Drew (2018)

Scouting Report: Fun fact about me: I paid to see Kazaam in theatres. On purpose. And even as a child, I could tell Shaq was not great at this whole “acting” thing. But that didn’t stop me from seeing Steelin theatres the very next year, and it hasn’t stopped anyone from letting Shaq continue to star in movies. He doesn’t emote, so much as mug for the cameras, which makes him a terribleturrible actor, but a natural pitchman.

Career Highlight: Those IcyHot commercials. Shaq as a genie? Sorry, I don’t buy it. But a 7’1”, 330-pound center who spent the majority of his career getting hacked in the paint now has back trouble? That’s method acting.

Legitimate Two-Way Stars

8. Amar’e Stoudamire

Resume: MacGruber (2010), New Years Eve (2011), Law & Order: SVU (2011), Entourage (2011), The Mindy Project (2012), Trainwreck (2015)

Scouting Report: Ama’re learned from the best, catching Steve Nash lobs in Phoenix for all those years: in comedy, sometimes it’s not about you, it’s about setting up others to score. “I think Amar’e Stoudamire stole my pashmina,” is still probably one of The Mindy Project’s best lines.

Career Highlight: Playing a familiar role in Trainwreck: Amar’e Stoudamire, knee surgery patient.

7. Rick Fox

Resume: He Got Game (1998), Sharknado 3 (2015), recurring roles on Oz, One Tree Hill, Ugly Betty and Tyler Perry’s House of Payne

Scouting Report: The former Lakers forward rode Shaq and Kobe’s coattails to three rings, then stuck around in LA to act full-time. Fox has got decent game (and more importantly, a leading man square jaw), but he’s still more of a sixth man at best. Kind of like in the NBA.

Career Highlight: Giving Jesus Shuttlesworth pointers on his game for Spike Lee.

6. Kyrie Irving

Resume: Disney’s Kickin’ It (2012), Uncle Drew (2018)

Scouting Report: I haven’t actually seen Uncle Drew yet, but the reviews are… surprisingly not that bad?4 Essentially, all Irving’s asked to do is wear old man makeup, say “young blood” a few hundred times, and ball. It’s all about finding the right system to match your skill set.

Career Highlight: Getting a feature-length Pepsi Max commercial released in theatres.

5. Blake Griffin

Resume: Broad City (2016), The Female Brain (2018)

Scouting Report: Blake Griffin is funny. As in, has a full standup set worth of material funny. As in, does improv shows with professional comedians funny. The only issue? Getting unceremoniously shipped from LA to Detroit is a serious setback to his promising acting career. (His basketball career too, probably.)

Career Highlight: Getting creative in the bedroom with Ilana Glazer on Broad City.

Hall of Fame Worthy

4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Resume: The Game of Death (1972), Airplane! (1980), Diff’rent Strokes (1982), Fletch (1985),The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1994), Full House (1995)

Scouting Report: The OG Laker-turned-actor, The Dream made his acting debut opposite Bruce Lee in the kung fu legend’s final film, and would go on to star in a number of movies and TV shows. But, yes, he’s probably best known for his role as co-pilot Roger Murdock (and definitely not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in Airplane!

Career Highlight: Airplane! Obviously.

 3. LeBron James

Resume: Entourage (2009), SpongeBob SquarePants (2009), Trainwreck (2015)

Scouting Report: Whether LeBron takes his talents to the Lakers or not, there’s nothing stopping him from taking over Hollywood. LeBron’s appearance in Trainwreck wasn’t your typical athlete cameo, it was a legitimate rom-com best friend role. It remains to be seen if he can play something other than “LeBron James,” but at one point, we didn’t think he could add a reliable three-point shot either.

Career Highlight: Attempting to sell Bill Hader on joining him in Cleveland.

2. Michael Jordan

Resume: Saturday Night Live (1991), Space Jam (1997), He Got Game (1998)

Scouting Report: There’s a reason LeBron is chasing Jordan’s shadow on the court and on the screen — if you want to be the best, you need to beat the best. Also, credit where credit’s due, Jordan knew the importance of going out on top: he effectively retired from acting immediately after Space Jam.

Career Highlight: Putting the Tune Squad on his back and singlehandedly willing his team to victory. Did you really think MJ would ever let anyone else take the last shot?

1. Ray Allen

Resume: He Got Game (1998), Harvard Man (2001)

Scouting Report: All due respect to Jordan, but let’s be real: MJ was acting opposite Bugs Bunny and Daffy. Allen had to go up against Denzel. And managed to hold his own. He even got nominated.5 Game recognize game.

Career Highlight: Going one-on-one with Denzel.

References   [ + ]

1. Here’s a sample: “You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.”
2. Who says Hollywood’s run out of original ideas, amiright?
3. A 3D sci-fi/thriller that was a joint venture between the NBA and a Chinese production company. Because, sure, why not.
4. New England Movies Weekly raves it’s “probably the most entertaining film ever based on a soft drink commercial.”
5. For an MTV Movie Award, but, you know, still…