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Five NBA Stars Turned Actors

Five NBA Stars Turned Actors (photo)

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After directly jumping from high school to the NBA, LeBron James never got to experience the college basketball ritual of March Madness, but if it were a condition rather than an event, I’d say his decision to star in the Universal comedy “Fantasy Basketball Camp” might just count for some sort of insanity. James is set to play the lead in the film, directed by “Soul Men” helmer Malcolm D. Lee, about a group of friends who head to Vegas and learn life lessons in addition to tips on how to set picks at the Cleveland Cavalier’s fantasy camp.

Of course, James already has some big screen experience under his belt with last year’s Spirit Award-nominated doc “More Than a Game” about his Ohio high school squad, as well as some small-screen experience on “Saturday Night Live” and multi-character Nike commercials. Still, the track record for basketball stars crossing over into movies is about as ugly as the Nets’ standing this season. With that in mind, somewhere between the steadily working former forward Rick Fox to the one-film wonder Michael Jordan (“Space Jam”), here’s our starting five for players who became Hollywood leading men.

03312010_kareem.jpgKareem Abdul-Jabbar

As with all basketball stars, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s height made him enticing to movie studios, but as far as film careers go, his natural charisma and ability to pick parts is what made him tower above all others. He had bit parts and cameos as himself through the years, but his two most notable performances came in “Airplane!” where he spoofed himself as co-pilot Roger Murdock, whose strong resemblance to a certain Laker isn’t lost on one of the plane’s young passengers, and “Game of Death,” where he got to show off his Jeet Kune Do martial arts skills. Released after his death in 1978, Bruce Lee’s final film was Abdul-Jabbar’s first and came about after Abdul-Jabbar befriended and trained under Lee while he attended UCLA. Abdul-Jabbar told the L.A. Times, “Bruce, more or less, backed up what I had learned from John Wooden. The whole thing about being prepared and understanding your own skills. What you have to offer and what you don’t have to offer. Channeling to your approach to everything specific. It was just an echo of John Wooden, from Hong Kong as opposed to Indiana.”

03312010_shaq.jpgShaquille O’Neal

When the Shaq Attack came to Los Angeles via free agency in 1996, he had his eye on winning a championship with the Lakers, but he also prized the opportunity to build upon a burgeoning rap career (believe it or not, 1993’s “Shaq Diesel” went platinum) and a supporting role in William Friedkin’s college basketball drama “Blue Chips,” which co-starred his then-Orlando Magic teammate Penny Hardaway. One could argue that his first attempt at leading man status as a larger-than-life genie in Disney’s “Kazaam” was due to the fact that the project was rushed from script to screen to accommodate O’Neal’s basketball schedule after writer/director/former Starsky Paul Michael Glaser dreamed up the idea after meeting him during the ’95 All-Star Game.

However, there was no such excuse for O’Neal’s ill-fated stab at the superhero Steel in 1997, which when coupled with that summer’s “Batman and Robin” marked a particular low point for the DC Comics universe. (Another fun fact: It was also Judd Nelson’s last major studio movie.) Long known for the Superman tattoo on his right arm, O’Neal proved to be no man of steel at the box office, grinding out $1.6 million at the box office, earning a Razzie nom for worst actor and all but ending his acting career, which has been limited to cameos in “Freddy Got Fingered,” “The Wash” and “Scary Movie 4.”


Gheorghe Muresan

According to Entertainment Weekly, Columbia Pictures had to spring for a modified van to drive the 7’7″ Romanian star to the set of his lone big-screen appearance in the Billy Crystal comedy “My Giant.” (He would also play a ventriloquist in Eminem’s “My Name Is…” video.) Remembering his earlier work with Andre the Giant in “The Princess Bride,” Crystal wrote “My Giant” with Muresan in mind, crafting a story about a small-time Hollywood agent who traveled to Romania in search of someone he could turn into a star and Muresan spent the 1997 offseason back in his home country having Crystal help him pronounce his lines in English. Of course, Muresan never was as big in Hollywood as he was on the court, with “My Giant” grossing a mere $7.9 million when it was released the following year.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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