August 12, 2022

(***WARNING: Spoilers for Hustle are in this room ***)

Like many of you, I recently spent two hours watching Adam Sandler’s new Netflix movie, Hustle, in large part because it was shot primarily in Philadelphia and centers on the franchise I love (and hate) so deeply, the Sixers. In the film, Sandler plays Stanley Sugarman, a longtime, beleaguered scout for the Sixers who has been beaten down by all the travel and the unrewarding nature of his job. For years he wanted to find his place on the bench as a coach. Soon in the movie’s runtime, he gets that opportunity, but is then stripped of it when his greatest champion, the team’s owner, dies, and the owner’s ignorant son (more on that later) banishes him. once again on the road to resume scouting. In Spain, he comes across Bo Cruz, played by Juancho Hernangomez. In Cruz, Stanley not only sees a star for the Sixers, but his ticket to a coaching job.

The film is littered with NBA cameos of all shapes and sizes, and I’ll touch on many of them below. Overall the movie is well done and it’s a lot of fun. I’m into all the Sandler stuff, so I really didn’t need the Sixers angle or the 91 on Rotten Tomatoes to sway me. Punch Drunk Love, Uncut Gems, Big Daddy, Just Go With It, Funny People, I am a follower of Sandman. Glad to see him getting his due, though.

So here are five takeaways from Hustle, in which I am not.

Juancho Hernangomez must be a Sixer

I mean, the guy looks great. First off, the acting chops on Juancho are no joke. I thought he did well as a first-time actor to credibly stand out in the light-heavy moments with Sandler and the actors who played his mother and daughter. I was impressed.

But he looks great on the pitch! Fluid, knocking down shots, switchable on the perimeter, it looks like it can keep some of them too. He is 27 years old and has $6 million in reserve this year in Utah. Make a deal, Daryl. Use a PTO in Sloan, pick up the phone, and get Juancho back to Philadelphia, where he belongs.

The Sixers’ acting debut

The Active Sixers featured in the film include: Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry when he was on the team. Harris had the most important job of the group — he faces Cruz one-on-one in local court with Curry present. At the start of the film, with Mo Wagner, who inexplicably plays an unfortunate draft pick named Haas, keeping Harris, Maxey implores Haas to keep Harris “like Jrue Holiday,” another former Sixer. Haas, useless, gets roasted. I don’t know why Wagner took on this role, as he is decried pretty much every second he’s onscreen by Sandler for being a disgruntled, losing player and doomed to failure. And then the Sixers take him anyway (natch) and they seem to know in his first two weeks in practice that he was the wrong choice. Maybe he just wanted to meet Adam Sandler. I digress.

Matisse Thybulle had a few funny lines in the movie (SpringHill shouldn’t check vaccination statuses). First, Cruz says “big fan” in a band with him and Philadelphia native Kyle Lowry, and Thybulle understandably jokes, “how did you know he was talking to you?” And then, after a Sandler meltdown, Thybulle goes to dinner with the owner of the Sixers and makes a sarcastic remark at the protagonist’s expense. My only request is for more Maxey in the sequel, please.

Bryan Colangelo’s analogue

I can’t believe it took me 600 words to do this. Guys. OK. In the film, Ben Foster plays a character named Vince Merrick. Vince is the son of Rex (played by Robert Duvall) who owns the Sixers to start Hustle. Rex and Stanley have a close relationship – Rex is so supportive of Stanley that he appoints Stanley as Doc Rivers’ assistant bench coach (is he the thumbs-up/thumbs-down challenge guy?) At the start of the movie, Rex, Stanley, Vince , the guy who played Urkel (Jaleel White) and Billy King (??) have a meeting in the boardroom about Haas, whom Sandler had just finished scouting. The room is divided: Sandler begs Rex not to draft him, citing character concerns and on/off divisions. Vince, on the other hand, thinks he’s on his knees and overpowering Stan in the meeting. Vince comes off as a real jerk from the start, to use a medical term.

Anyway, to cut some grease here, when Rex dies the team is handed over to Vince, and he and his HUGE COLLARS take over the team and immediately draft Haas, despite Vince’s last wishes his father. Then, during a poolside lunch with super-agent Leon Rich played deliciously by Kenny Smith, it’s revealed that Vince plans to trade Joel Embiid in a bid to put his stamp on the Sixers! Although not a 1:1 comparison, and physically with his bald head and bushy beard, Vince looks more like today’s Palo Alto Sam Hinkie than Bryan Colangelo, comparisons to Bryan abound here, Nope? Daddy’s son takes over the team, proves incompetent at his job, alienates star player, wears huge necklaces, looks unbearable to be there while running the Sixers into the ground, making terrible choices of draft along the way. There’s a scene where Stanley tries to talk to Vince and Vince spends a lot of time staring at his phone, not paying attention to him. Is it on one of his Twitter accounts? Or text Barbara?

Other NBA appearances

The biggest star in that regard was Anthony Edwards, who stole the show as the top draft prospect and Bo’s biggest rival on the court, Kermit Wilts. Edwards looks great on the court but his charisma when going back and forth in scenes with Hernangomez was excellent. The viral clips of Edwards joking around with reporters translates perfectly to this role, and the villain role is perfect for continually goading Bo in a humorous way.

Elsewhere, we have visits from Boban Marjanovic, Dr. J, Shaq, Charles Barkley, an NBA Combine (?) Khris Middleton, Trae Young, Aaron Gordon, Jordan Clarkson, and more.

Too close to my house

Although true to life, I could have lived without it HustleThe team’s insistence on mirroring the Sixers’ pattern of failures and disruptions so faithfully over the years. Sure, there’s the aforementioned Colangelo-ian palace intrigue between Vince and the scouting department that led to Haas being cast, but then, at the very end of the movie, they banish Vince to a broom closet somewhere. when his still capable sister, Kat, takes over the franchise. But even still, the pride and joy of Sugarman, Bo, ends up playing for the fucking Celtics! A heartbreaker. Painful because it’s true and too often echoes what happened in reality, but couldn’t things have shaken our way just once?

Highly recommend.