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Basketball superfan Adam Sandler is taking his love of the game to the next level, starring in the Netflix sports drama Hustle as a washed-up NBA scout who takes a risk on an extraordinary player he discovers playing street ball.
Sandler was not only portraying a member of the Philadelphia 76ers franchise, but was surrounded by real NBA players, including star Juancho Hernangomez, and LeBron James, who produced the film via his SpringHill company.
James’ company had the script, Sandler told The Hollywood Reporter at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere on Wednesday and brought it to the star because “they all knew I like to hoop. I heard the premise, and I read the script, and I was like, ‘Yeah man, that sounds like something I’d be excited to do.'”
James, who on top of being a basketball superstar is moving deeper into TV and film projects, “was very helpful in any NBA stuff we needed; any player we reached out to, LeBron would make sure that everything was smooth,” said Sandler, who also produced the project, of their collaboration.
Queen Latifah stars alongside Sandler as his ex-athlete wife, and said she was drawn to the project immediately because of Sandler’s involvement and seat to watch the comedy icon tackle heavier material: “I like him being able to show different sides of who he is and get to flex different muscles as well,” she said.
Aside from the two acting heavyweights, the rest of the cast is mostly comprised of real NBA players and first-time actors, though Latifah said that wasn’t as challenging as it could have been. “They were used to being on camera, so I think it’s just transferring the mindset from handling the basketball to being on camera and pretending to do what they normally do,” she said.
Hernangomez, a professional player from Spain who is currently on the Utah Jazz, was one of those new actors, portraying the internal phenom who Sandler discovers and trains for the NBA. The athlete never wanted to be an actor, but when the league was shut down amid the pandemic, he made some audition tapes for fun with his siblings. Cut to two years later, said Hernangomez, and “I don’t know what they see in me, I don’t know how, but we ended up doing a movie.”
As much of the film is spent on one-on-one scenes between Sandler and Hernangomez, the two formed a close relationship, which the basketball player says is like family.
“I think he’s like my dad and for him I’m his older son. It was some kind of feeling from the first day, we just loved each other so much and spent so much time together,” Hernangomez said. “When I see his eyes and I have to say goodbye [in the movie], I say ‘love you,’ and it’s a real feeling, it’s not acting.”
And after playing against James on the court, Hernangomez formed a closer partnership with the star on the film.
“He come to me in the game and said, ‘Hey congrats, you did a great movie.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, LeBron knows my name and I’m so happy to do the movie,'” he remembered, and was eagerly anticipating James’ arrival on the red carpet. “I’m waiting for him take a picture — I asked three times if I could have his jersey signed, but he never sent it to me. I will ask him today again.” He wasn’t the only one excited for the Lakers star’s arrival, as hundreds of fans lined the Westwood event cheering for him, and co-star Heidi Gardner was anticipating tears if she saw James, after missing him on set.
“I will die,” Gardner teased on the carpet. “I promised my makeup artist if he’s here that I won’t cry, but if he is, I’ll cry.”
Inside the screening, Sandler took the stage, saying “The fact that I got to make a movie with all of these guys that I admire so much was a big deal to me, something I’ll never forget,” and highlighted the hard work and time required to be a professional athlete. He also teased, “I became very close with Juancho and we did a lot of scenes together — he’s a better actor than me and it makes me sick,” before thanking James and declaring “Queen Latifah, being married to you was exceptional.”
Hustle starts streaming on Netflix on June 8.
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