Above the rim: Best fictional starting 5s in the history of film + TV
A completely impossible yet intriguing list of matchups only feasible in a basketball fantasyland
Who would win in a one-on-one between Michael Jordan and LeBron James? Could these Golden State Warriors beat the 72-10 Chicago Bulls? How many more titles could Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have won if they actually liked each other? What if injuries never robbed the careers of Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Brandon Roy and Derrick Rose? There’s nothing quite like nostalgia. And when it comes to nostalgia in basketball, friendships are tested, battle lines are drawn and some of the hottest takes known to man fly off without a moment’s notice.
With the NBA playoffs set to take flight this weekend, we’ve decided to bring another completely impossible yet intriguing matchup only feasible in a basketball fantasy land.
The best to ever do it on television, vs. on film. We kept this to purely fictional players. NBA players in TV or film roles were not eligible, because what fun would that be? For example, no Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) from He Got Game, no Grandmama (Larry Johnson) from Family Matters or Neon Boudeaux and Butch McRae (O’Neal and Hardaway) from Blue Chips. Don’t trip, though, because there’s a melody of skill, charisma and enough comedy to give you flashbacks to the days of MTV Rock N’ Jock. This is a mini-draft equipped with a starting five, a sixth player and head coach. We’ll then let you decide who’d win this fictional Finals. Our own Justin Tinsley has television and Aaron Dodson has movies.
Those are the rules. We good? Good. Now let’s get to it …
“Will Smith” (Will Smith)
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Scouting Report: We’re always left to wonder what would’ve become of the Will character had he landed the Georgetown scholarship, completing the most feared college backcourt ensemble in history with Allen Iverson, Victor Page and Kyle Lee Watson. Smith’s a big combo guard who can score at will (pun intended). There are very few holes in The Fresh Prince’s game — except for one. Several general managers have expressed concern for his decision-making in crunch time, evident in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Courting Disaster” (season one, episode 11) and My Brother’s Keeper (season two, episode 15). Is he the cold-blooded killer you need in the game’s tightest moments? Even with that, The Prince is a franchise-caliber talent.
Steve Urkel (Jaleel White)
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Scouting Report: In the “Grandmama” episode — season five, episode seven — Eddie Winslow dumped Urkel to play with The Spider, which allowed Urkel to call in reinforcements with Larry Johnson as “Grandmama.” To Eddie’s credit, Spider was nice. But we’re not making the same mistake, as The Nerd’s game is both technically sound and visually appealing.
Brandi (Kyla Pratt)
Scouting Report: The year 1998 was a rather definitive one for Kyla Pratt, basketballwise. Not only did she play a young Monica Wright in Love & Basketball, giving young Quincy McCall the business on the court, but months later in “She Got Game” — season three, episode one of Smart Guy — she did the same thing, minus TJ (Tahj Mowry) pushing her into the bushes. “Brandi,” after some persuading, joins TJ’s squad, instantly transforming the team and supplanting TJ as the squad’s best player. Instant offense. Instant culture change. Instant winner with a chip on her shoulder.
Mark Cooper (Mark Curry)
Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper
Scouting Report: The Mr. Cooper character has two things working for him that no one else on this squad does. One, he’s a former NBA player (for his hometown Golden State Warriors). And two, he brings a certain maturity level this team is going to need if we’re hoping to make any sort of noise.
Real Husbands of Hollywood
Scouting Report: Technically, Kevin wasn’t a hooper on Real Husbands of Hollywood. But as a four-time NBA Celebrity All-Star Game MVP (and co-star of a hilarious basketball game with Chris Brown), he’s my ringer. We’re going to be running a small-ball lineup much of the time, so we’re going to need as many ball handlers, shooters and comedians as possible. Basically, call it The Annexation of Puerto Rico 2.0.
Sixth man: Martin Payne (Martin Lawrence)
Scouting Report: He’s an undersized 2-guard whose confidence is nothing short of irrational. But that’s fine. Payne is a defibrillator jolt of energy off the bench. He’s never met a shot he didn’t like. He doesn’t mind mixing it and jawing with the competition. And since he’s the classic definition of a streaky shooter, you take the good with the bad. He’s basically J.R. Smith with Gary Payton’s mentality. The only question mark to his game is where his head’s at before tipoff. If he and Gina — or worse, he and Pam — got into an argument beforehand (which is like saying “if water is wet”) he can easily shoot you out of a game as quickly as he can hit three miracle buckets in a row.
Coach: Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris)
Scouting Report: This squad is going to need a no-nonsense general on the sidelines who can occasionally verbally decapitate a referee who misses a call — as seen in the brilliant “Game Day” episode from season one. The reports are true, though. I nearly went with Prop Joe, whose commitment to being the dope-game Pat Riley wearing a suit in Baltimore heat was only superseded by the iconic line “Look the part, be the part, m—-f—–!” But then that’d mean Joe’s nephew, “Cheese” (Method Man), would be somewhere near the team. And I can’t have Cheese near my squad. Nope. No how. No way.
Calvin Cambridge (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss)
Scouting Report: There’s one rule for my squad: no team sneakers. Every player has the free rein to break out whatever heat they so choose, especially the young god Calvin Cambridge. He’ll be wearing a pair of white and Carolina blue Nike Blazers, which used to belong to Michael Jordan when he was a kid, giving him the ability to ball out like the greatest of all time. The kicks even allow Calvin — at a modest 4 feet 8 inches — to dunk the ball (in Like Mike, he won the 2002 NBA Slam Dunk Contest). Who needs a point guard with fundamentals when you’ve got one with shoes that have magical powers zapped into them by lightning?
Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan)
Love & Basketball
Scouting Report: Sorry, Quincy McCall, but you didn’t make the team. That’s because his childhood sweetheart, Monica Wright, was without a doubt a better hooper in 2000’s Love & Basketball, one of the most iconic black films of all time. Remember the movie’s timeless line? “All’s fair in love and basketball.” Well, what isn’t there to love about Monica’s game? She’s an athletic point guard who plays with a whole lotta swag. Just look at her No. 32 jersey, which she wears in honor of her favorite player, Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson. Her character also earned a starting job at USC as a freshman, won a championship overseas and became one of the WNBA’s first players. We need that pedigree in our backcourt.
Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin)
Above the Rim
Scouting Report: Yup, we’re employing a three-guard offense — and we’re running it through the sharpshooting Kyle Lee Watson. The at-times hotheaded baller made it out of the ’hood of Harlem, New York, and all the way to the Hilltop in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University, where he played in the 1990s for what was once known as black America’s basketball team, under John Thompson Jr., the first African-American head coach to win an NCAA title. We just gotta hope that when he gets the rock, he spreads his fingers and puts some rotation on his jumper.
Clarence Withers, aka Coffee Black (Andre 3000)
Scouting Report: Back in 1976, during an ABA game between the San Antonio Spurs and Flint Tropics, the first alley-oop in basketball history was recorded. “A very unusual series of moves just made the ball go in,” play-by-play announcer Dick Pepperfield uttered in awe that day. On the receiving end of the pass from the top of the key by Jackie Moon? None other than Clarence Withers (aka Coffee Black, aka Downtown “Funky Stuff” Malone, aka Sugar Dunkerton, aka “Jumping” Johnny Johnson), who’s listed at only 5 feet, 10 inches but has supreme bounce to go along with his picked-out Afro. Between Coffee Black and Calvin Cambridge, we might as well refer to the movie team from here on out as the new Lob City.
Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs)
Scouting Report: *Cues up G.C. Cameron’s original rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”* Long before the real-life deaths of star hoopers Benji Wilson and Len Bias, the basketball world lost a great one in Richard “Cochise” Morris, from the 1975 film Cooley High. Cochise received a scholarship to play at the historically black Grambling State University but was killed before he could graduate from high school. Let’s just say that his tragic death never happened, making him a valuable addition to our roster.
Sixth Man: Antoine Tyler (Kadeem Hardison)
The Sixth Man
Scouting Report: We’ve got skill, athleticism and, most importantly, a higher being on our side. There’s no better sixth man for our squad than Antoine Tyler, who in the 1997 film The Sixth Man helped lead his younger brother Kenny Tyler (Marlon Wayans) and the Washington Huskies basketball team to an NCAA championship as a guardian angel after suffering a heart attack on the court and dying. At the end of the movie, Antoine ascended to heaven to ball for God’s team, but hopefully he’ll return to help us out.
Coach: Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson)
Scouting Report: If there’s one man who wouldn’t back down to the street savant-turned-basketball coach known as Avon Barksdale, it’s Ken Carter. Inspired by a real person, and depicted by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2005 film of the same name, Coach Carter barred his entire team (which was undefeated, mind you) from playing in games because his players were failing classes. The community turned against Carter, who nearly lost his job, when what he wanted was for every player to go to college, even if basketball was a casualty. Win or lose, Coach Carter would probably have Avon doing suicides and pushups, out of principle alone.