Michael Jordan is undoubtedly the most famous NBA player to ever get involved with movies, which is quite easy to pull off, at least halfway, when you’re the most famous athlete on the planet.
The former shooting guard led the Chicago Bulls to six championships, winning multiple personal accolades and becoming a brand in the process. MJ also went on to star in one of the most popular films of the ’90s, Space Jam. The movie also features a number of other past NBA stars such as Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Mugsy Bogues, Patrick Ewing, and Shawn Bradley, whose skills get stolen by animated aliens prior to Jordan getting sucked into the world of Looney Tunes.
His Airness is, of course, called upon to save the day and delivers like only he can.
Michael Jordan is undoubtedly the most famous NBA player to ever get involved with movies
In real life, Jordan saved the Bulls as a franchise, catapulting the team to never-before-experienced heights after he was drafted in 1984. The Bulls have struggled to remain relevant since his departure, broaching the conversation every now and again. The present happens to be one of these times, with the team set for the playoffs for the first time in five years.
The Illinois sportsbooks community will certainly be alive following one of the most memorable regular seasons in Chicago since the Jordan and Derrick Rose eras. The Bulls are currently 22/1 to win the Eastern Conference and, as things stand, would face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. Philly would be more likely to go through a matchup with the Bulls, given that they’re among the favorites for the title, with bookmakers offering odds of 10/1. The championship odds on Chicago are 50/1.
So back to Jordan. While he was the most popular NBA star to be in a movie, by far, he definitely wasn’t the only one and also wasn’t the first.
Ray Allen – He Got Game
NBA Hall of Famer and two-time champion Ray Allen starred in Spike Lee’s He Got Game in 1998. Playing a high school star named Jesus Shuttlesworth who’s the best player in the country, Allen took his skills to the big screen alongside Denzel Washington.
The movie is centered on Shuttlesworth’s pending decision as it pertains to which college he plays for. A week before making his choice, the governor of New York offers his father a deal. His father, played by Denzel, is serving time in prison but is let out to convince his son to play for the governor’s alma mater, Big State, in exchange for an early release.
Given one week of freedom to convince Jesus, Jake Shuttlesworth becomes just another person looking to exploit the basketball star’s success for personal gain.
LeBron James – Trainwreck/Space Jam 2
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was Jordan’s successor in Space Jam: A New Legacy. But, prior to that, the four-time MVP made his debut in the 2015 movie, Trainwreck.
King James plays himself in the movie – well, a fictionalized version of himself who is friends with Bill Hader’s sports doctor character – and delivers a funny performance that includes self-deprecating humor pertaining to Cleveland and being a miser.
In 2020, James starred in the second iteration of Space Jam, which admittedly did not go down very well with critics. Again playing a fictionalized version of himself, LBJ gets trapped in an animated universe, the “Serververse,” with his son after attending a business meeting at Warner Bros. The villain, Al-G Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle) is responsible for snaring the basketball star and his son.
The plot is sort of similar to the first movie in that LeBron must win a high-stakes game. Falling right in line, the Looney Tunes characters make up the rest of his team.
Julius Erving – The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh
Julius Erving, known as Dr. J, was the standard for high-flying acrobatics and incredible dunks before Jordan got into the league. He also starred in a movie before MJ did, landing a role in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh in 1979.
The movie is about a ball boy of a crappy pro team who asks an astrologer for advice and hatches a plan to form a team only consisting of players who have the same astrological sign as their star, Moses Guthrie, played by Erving. They go on to become the Pittsburgh Pisces, who ultimately make a run at a championship.
Jamaal Wilkes – Cornbread, Earl And Me
Former small forward Jamaal Wilkes was actually the first NBA player to star in a movie, playing character Nathaniel “Cornbread” Hamilton in 1975. Cornbread is a local high school star destined for big things but ends up being shot dead by police who mistakenly identify him as someone who just committed a violent crime.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Airplane!
The former Lakers big man had a role in perhaps the most popular movie featuring an NBA player that wasn’t Space Jam. Kareem starred as co-pilot Roger Murdock in the comedy Airplane! In 1980 and, in one scene, is recognized by a young boy who visits the cockpit. Murdock insists he isn’t Jabbar but gives up his denial after the boy repeats all of his dad’s criticisms of Kareem’s play on the court.
There are plenty of other NBA stars who have since taken to the big screen. Shaquille O’Neal is chief among them, having starred in Blue Chips, Kaazam and Steel. He also had a role in Grown Ups 2, as well as in Kyrie Irving’s Uncle Drew. Yeah, Kyrie’s gotten his movie too, while Brooklyn Nets teammate Kevin Durant appeared in the film Thunderstruck in 2012.
Wilt Chamberlain was in Conan the Destroyer in 1984, and Kevin Garnett was in the recent Uncut Gems starring Adam Sandler.
Hollywood is certainly no uncharted territory for basketball greats.