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‘Ballers’ recap: A timely season three opens with potential NFL-to-Las Vegas move

Yet even with a big look from Steph Curry, can Spencer Strasmore deliver?

SEASON THREE, EPISODE ONE | ‘SEEDS OF EXPANSION’ | JULY 23

Was HBO’s Ballers working to deliver a pro football team to Las Vegas on a similar schedule as the real-life NFL?

It sure seems like it, based on Sunday’s season three premiere, which ends with the former NFL player turned financial adviser Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) asking Las Vegas hotel tycoon Wayne Hastings Jr. (Steve Guttenberg) the simple question, “How would you feel about bringing an NFL team to Las Vegas?” They were on a terrace overlooking the Miami skyline after a dinner party. “I love that idea … I love that idea,” Wayne responds before clinking glasses with Spencer as the show appropriately fades out to Kodak Black’s “Patty Cake.”

That episode aired four months after NFL owners voted 31-1 to approve a relocation of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas in the next few years. In July 2016, three weeks into season two, HBO announced that it would be bringing back Ballers, the Entourage-esque series that takes a look into the lives of pro football players, as told through the people around them: financial advisers, agents and their homies.

The renewal gave showrunner Evan Riley a year to craft the direction of Ballers around the timely conversation of the NFL making a move to Sin City. And as we wait to see how negotiations spearheaded by the polarizing Spencer will unfold, Riley teases us in the first episode of the new season with added layers to a select group of his core characters.

Let’s start with Spencer, who is now pain-free after undergoing a hip replacement, yet still having money problems while on a quest to pay back the $5 million he borrowed from his client Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), which he put up to become a co-partner at Anderson Sports Management. We learn that Spencer has his mind on being a father, when Ricky tells him his girlfriend might be pregnant. The question is, can Spencer even have kids? A trip to the fertility clinic ensues.

Speaking of Ricky, after spending much of season two handling daddy issues with his estranged father, Dennis, and trying to figure out which NFL team he’d sign with (don’t forget, he decides to take a massive pay cut to play for the New England Patriots), he has new problems. His girlfriend, Amber, is in fact pregnant, meaning his playboy days might be coming to an end. Or will they?

After two seasons of dumb off-the-field decisions, most of which came from the steering of his childhood friend Reggie (London Brown), Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter) is finally showing signs of growing up. At an autograph signing, Vernon is shocked to discover that a young kid regards him, not Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott, as his favorite Cowboys player. Vernon responds to the heartfelt moment by giving the kid his marijuana leaf-adorned hoodie. So maybe Vernon isn’t the best role model just yet, but the sweatshirt is part of his startup clothing line — a $200,000 brainchild investment of Reggie’s.

That brings us to the fact that some characters still haven’t changed much. Reggie is still Reggie — a bit of knucklehead. And while continuing his journey into the throes of front-office NFL management as the assistant general manager of the Miami Dolphins, the gentle giant Charles Greane (Omar Miller) remains under the thumb of the manipulative Dolphins general manager Larry Siefert (Dulé Hill). Without Spencer by his side, fellow adviser Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry) still can’t seem to get anything done with a client, like persuading Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs to give up one of his houses in order to save money for the future. Yet, Joe’s ability to be a voice of reason is essential to Spencer’s decision-making and livelihood. “You are the asset,” he tells Spencer heading into the dinner party, which concludes with the genius Vegas idea.

And what would an episode of Ballers be without a celebrity cameo? The first family of basketball, Stephen and Ayesha Curry, make an appearance on a call with Spencer, who’s attempting to sign the two-time NBA MVP. “You thought it was a date night,” Steph tells Ayesha as they board a private jet. “I’m tryna get you in the mile-high club.”

We see you, Steph. We see you.

Aaron Dodson is an associate editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson, formerly of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, he was one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.