Issue 62: Basketball on Saturday Night Live

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“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Those words have been a part of my world for most of my life. Saturday Night Live began well before I was born, but I caught onto the show early on and have stuck with it ever since.

I’ve been a regular watcher for 20 or so years and have seen just about every episode — for better or worse — over the past decade. I even won a bonus trivia round at a bar by correctly identifying all the correct answers as being the ten most recent SNL hosts at the time.

The trivia host was impressed and I think I won our team an extra round of lukewarm beers. Score!

So, yes, SNL has been a part of my life for a good while. And though they don’t foray into sports too often, they occasionally dip their toes into the hoops world, whether in the form of a sketch or inviting a basketball player over to Studio 8H to host.

Let’s see some of SNL’s most memorable basketball moments.

Michael Jordan Offers Self-Help Advice

Fresh off his first NBA championship, Michael Jordan scored a gig hosting SNL on September 28, 1991. As we saw in Space Jam, MJ can occasionally drop a funny line here or there, but he’s certainly much better at basketball than acting.

Jordan’s most memorable sketch is appearing on “Daily Affirmations” with Stuart Smalley (played by Al Franken). Half of Jordan’s lines in this sketch are merely repeating what Stuart says, but he offers some sound advice at the end. And he was apparently good friends with the cast and crew for the week, so that’s nice.

Hearing MJ say, “Because I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me” while holding back laughter is worth the price of admission alone.

Then again, you’re paying nothing to watch this clip, so your mileage may vary.

Background Actors Failing at Basketball

During SNL’s 42nd season, Jimmy Fallon came back to his old stomping grounds. Of course, Fallon is better known today as the host of The Tonight Show.

Nowadays, he laughs and tells guests how funny they are, but in his SNL days, he would laugh during sketches, whether they were about cowbells or hot tubs. So I guess it’s a natural progression.

In any case, this is a fabulous sketch. Fallon and Mikey Day are background actors on a movie set. Pete Davidson is the troubled young basketball star, and Kenan Thompson is his coach. Alex Moffatt plays the director who quickly learns that his actors have a very different idea of what “basketball experience” means.

There’s some fairly impressive acting from Thompson here, and it’s a nice touch to have Davidson really being the only one doing anything on the court during the basketball montage. If you’ve ever been distracted by extras during a TV show or movie, you’ll really appreciate this one.

SNL does Outside the Lines

In 2013, former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice made headlines for verbally and physically abusing his players, including shouting homophobic insults and throwing basketballs at them.

The ESPN show Outside the Lines covered these transgressions and brought to light a common issue in basketball locker rooms and practice courts.

I remember in high school our coaches would sometimes call us names as a motivator. Once, a coach criticized us for being soft after a few guys went to the sidelines to rest rolled ankles and other sore joints.

Literally, on the next play, our coach, who was scrimmaging with us, drove to the basket, landed awkwardly, and tore his ACL. He was rolling around on the ground and clutching his knee, letting out wails of pain every once in a while.

We thought he was merely really hammering home his point, so it was a few minutes of us standing in silence, watching and doing nothing. High school kids are not the most perceptive.

Rice was fired the next day, but plenty of other coaches are still tough on their players—in various levels of intensity.

SNL found the opportunity to put Melissa McCarthy’s tremendous physical comedy skills to good use with a spoof of the Rutgers situation. McCarthy plays the head coach of the fictional Middle Delaware State women’s basketball team, and she is less than kind to her players.

My favorite part of this sketch is when McCarthy throws a toaster at Cecily Strong. Occasionally, when I’m making toast, I wonder what would happen if it had a mind of its own and hurled itself at me.

That hasn’t happened yet, thankfully.

Roundball Rock with Lyrics

You may not know the name of the song “Roundball Rock” but you have most certainly heard the song. It was the former NBA on NBC theme song and, for anyone that was into basketball in the 1990s, when that sweet synth action hit your television speakers, it meant you had a great game on your hands.

I like when SNL gets into some real-world spaces, especially if an obscure thing they’re riffing off of in the first place. This sketch from 2013—notably 11 years after “Roundball Rock” last appeared on the NBA on NBC—is excessively bizarre.

Jason Sudeikis and Tim Robinson play John and Dave Tesh, respectively. I would have fully expected Will Forte to be in this sketch, but maybe he was too busy participating in a spelling bee.

Instead, Robinson delivers enough weirdness, introducing lyrics to the otherwise catchy instrumental song. Then he developed I Think You Should Leave and got to be weird for several episodes of a Netflix show. Way to build that foundation early on!

Lavar Ball Has Never Lost

The most recent addition to our list, this one aired just last week! Kenan Thompson playing a professional athlete (or the parent of professional athletes) is always a welcome addition to my television and/or computer screen.

Though I slightly prefer his David Ortiz—simply because I’m such a fan of mofongo—Lavar Ball is a far easier person to lampoon.

He’s very proud of his sons, LaMelo, Lonzo, and LeAngelo. And according to this video, his fourth, lesser-known son LaDingo will dunk on you and then steal your baby.

Because, you know, that’s what dingos do.

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Other Reads and Watches

This Was Always About Basketball with Craig Leener (Podcast)

NBA, LeBron James’ group team to fight voter suppression during All-Star weekend

Kobe Bryant, Jerry West and the draft workout that changed NBA history

Did UCLA really turn down Michael Jordan?

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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