In 1998, Ray Allen, then a young shooting guard just finishing up his second NBA season for the MIlwaukee Bucks, starred as Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee's "He Got Game," the story of a pre-LeBron high school superstar, his recruitment (including from the NBA), and his tortured relationship with his father. Lee needed someone who could convince in the basketball scenes, and Allen did just that. It was a little more surprising that Allen held his own in the rest of the film, especially in his high-intensity interactions with Denzel Washington. He was well-regarded for his work, if not exactly praised as a better actor than athlete.
After "He Got Game," Allen mostly quit acting — his only other credit is playing another basketball player in "Harvard Man," a pretty terrible film about a pre-"Entourage" Adrian Grenier shaving points in the gambling hotbed of Ivy League basketball. Basketball was always going to be Ray Allen's meal ticket, and he understandably focused on it. It's safe to say he made the right choice.
Nevertheless, Allen might have passed up some opportunities in Hollywood. Except it turns out he has plans to revisit that career after he retires from the NBA. From Chris Tomasson for FoxSports.com:
Allen, 37, still has a few years left in the NBA. But whenever he retires he plans to become an actor.
“Oh, yes," Allen said when asked if wants to act. "It’s just something that’s going to keep me busy and something that can challenge you and keep you focused on a daily basis.’’ [...]
Not that Allen needed convincing he could go from NBA to screen star, but it sure didn’t hurt when he ran into Leonardo DiCaprio a few years ago in Las Vegas.
DiCaprio was said to have liked "He Got Game." He told Allen he should pursue acting when he retires. [...]
For "He Got Game,'' Allen was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Male Performance. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that Allen “is that rarity, an athlete who can act.’’
I am not sure that an MTV Movie Award nomination and kind words from Leonardo DiCaprio qualify as signs that an actor is headed for stardom, but there are reasons to think that Allen can be successful in this career.
However, it's also true that he's likely to be typecast, just as former NBA player and current actor Rick Fox has played athletes and/or coaches in the vast majority of his roles (including in "He Got Game"). For Allen, the issue is twofold. As Tomasson notes later in his piece (and Trey Kerby pulled out at The Basketball Jones), even Heat players refer to Allen as "Jesus" when he's shooting particularly well. He's always going to be identified with that character.
There are worse fates, of course, and Allen has made enough money in the NBA that he can afford to spend some time toiling in less-than-ideal roles (or, for that matter, to not take those jobs at all). But it's not as if he's going to show up to a set and instantly become a major player. As in the NBA, there's likely going to be a period of time where he has to pay his dues.
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