Celebrating 25 Years Since the NBA’s Acting Apex

Anyone above the age of, say, 14 years old often likes to reflect on the past. You’ll hear people lamenting about the “good old days” and “how much simpler” life used to be when we were young.

And it’s true—I didn’t worry about much as a kid. Bills, home repairs, work stuff…they were all mere ethereal concepts.

But there are perks to being an adult, too. For instance, I was at a pizza restaurant over the weekend where they brought out a dessert cheesecake for my birthday celebration in the middle of the meal.

I went from eating pizza to eating cheesecake and BACK to eating pizza again. As a child, that kind of behavior would get me expelled.

But for the purposes of this issue, we are, in fact, going back to the simpler days. Specifically, we’re headed to the year 1997, when just about every NBA player tried their hand at acting.

Let’s check out the highlights!

Kobe Bryant on Hang Time

Hang Time was one of my top shows growing up (not to be confused with the video game NBA Hang Time, which was released around the same time). The show, featuring Reggie Theus, Anthony Anderson, and Daniella Deutscher, was about a basketball team that also faced real-life problems. Wow, that’s just like my life!

Admittedly, despite having watched all of the episodes of this show, I don’t remember much about it today. But I do remember the guest appearance from Kobe Bryant.

In this clip, the Hang Time gang is playing a group of adults at basketball. Despite each side having three players, one of the Hang Time team members is “hurt” (I guess? He seems fine) and they need a sub. Luckily, Reggie Theus is friends with Kobe Bryant, who just happens to be waiting outside the gym wearing a nice bowler’s shirt.

Kobe not only provides the spark the team needed, but he also delivers some savvy financial advice about not overspending on room service.

This must have been such a fun scene for the opponents to film. You literally just get to be bad at basketball while an NBA player is good at it next to you. Sign me up!

Ron Harper is foiled by orange soda on Kenan & Kel

Kenan & Kel had a flurry of famous celebrity cameos. Kenan passes out during a meeting with Britney Spears. Store patrons had a chance to get a photo with Bill Bellamy. Linda Cardellini played an orange soda-guzzling student named Becky.

Former Chicago Bulls guard Ron Harper also got in on the orange soda game, but his experience was less delightful.

The full episode, “Foul Bull” (S2, E9) is streaming on Netflix right now, but here’s a little taste of the magic.

Harper heads to Rigby’s (where Kenan and Kel work) but unfortunately slips on some orange soda on the floor. The entire city of Chicago becomes enraged and seeks revenge on the boys. Thankfully, all is forgiven in the end.

I’m also always tickled by how giddy Kel is when he first meets Mr. Harper.

Dennis Rodman as a weapons dealer in Double Team

Dennis Rodman was known for his colorful hairstyles and rebounding prowess, but he also took to the silver screen alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mickey Rourke for the action-comedy movie Double Team.

The movie has a subpar 11% on Rotten Tomatoes and features a handful of hair jokes (there are two in the trailer alone).

Perhaps the most spectacular thing about the movie is that it’s among the tamest things Rodman has done in his life.

He left the Bulls in the middle of the NBA Finals to wrestle. He’s become friends with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. He kicked a cameraman during a game. He planned to go to Russia to help free imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner, then called off the visit.

While Jackie Chan is not the film, he did take the time to pose for a photograph with Rodman, Van Damme, and director Tsui Hark.

Shaquille O’Neal as a magnetic man in Steel

Shaquille O’Neal often referred to himself as Superman, so perhaps it’s no surprise he tried his hand as the leading role in a superhero movie.

Steel is not a good movie, but at this point in his career, Shaq had only recently moved to Los Angeles and was attracted to the bright lights of Hollywood. Oh yes, and all the money of Hollywood, too.

In fact, Shaq’s reasoning for doing Kazaam (another not good movie) is pretty telling. He recalled what his agent told him:

“‘I got you $7 million.’ [I was like], ‘When do you want me to start shooting?’”

Anyway, if you’ve never seen Steelthis scene is a good one-minute representation of it. There are explosions, an insane amount of cheesy dialogue, and Shaq being a large man. It’s all you could ever ask for.

Honorable Mention: Air Bud

I have two dogs, and I don’t think either of them has future careers as basketball players (or basketball puppers?). But the movie Air Bud is the reason why I want them to try.

In the film, a boy learns his golden retriever is talented at shooting a basketball. The dog really has no other skills, but he’s good enough to make a team of human children.

The franchise has since spawned movies for nearly every sport and several non-sport scenarios, too. But it all started with 1997’s foray into basketball.

If you have 15 minutes, I’d highly recommend watching John Oliver’s take on Air Bud during a recent web exclusive for Last Week Tonight. It’s a true joy.