(***WARNING: spoilers for Hustle lie inside this piece ***)
Like many of you, I recently spent two hours watching Adam Sandler’s new Netflix movie, Hustle, in large part because it was primarily filmed in Philadelphia and centers around the franchise I love (and hate) so much, the Sixers. In the film, Sandler plays Stanley Sugarman, a longtime beleaguered Sixers scout who has been beaten down by all the travel and the unrewarding nature of his job. For years, he has wanted to find his way onto the bench as a coach. Soon in the movie’s runtime, he gets that chance, but then it’s taken away when his greatest champion, the team’s owner, dies, and the owner’s ignorant son (more on that later) banishes him once again to the road to resume scanning. . In Spain, he meets Bo Cruz, played by Juancho Hernangómez. In Cruz, Stanley sees not only a star for the Sixers, but his ticket back 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 a lot of fun. I know all things Sandler, so he really didn’t need the Sixers angle or the 91 on Rotten Tomatoes to convince me. Punch Drunk Love, Uncut Gems, Big Daddy, Just Let Go, Funny People, I am a Sandman devotee. Happy to see him get what he deserved though.
So here are five takeaways from Hustle, where I’m not.
Juancho Hernangomez needs to be a Sixer
I mean, the guy looks great. First of all, Juancho’s acting skills are no joke. I thought he did very well as a first-time actor to be believable in both the light and heavy moments with Sandler and the actors who played his mother and daughter. He was impressed.
But it looks great on the court! Smooth, knocking down shots, switchable on the perimeter, looks like he can protect some too. He is 27 years old and has $6 million on the books this year in Utah. Make a deal, Daryl. He uses some PTO at Sloan, picks up the phone and brings Juancho back to Philly where he belongs.
The Sixers’ acting debuts
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 biggest job of the bunch: He goes one-on-one against Cruz on a home court with Curry in attendance. Early in the film, with Mo Wagner, who inexplicably plays a hapless draft pick named Haas, marking Harris, Maxey implores Haas to protect Harris “like Jrue Holiday,” another former Sixer. Haas, useless, roasts. I’m not sure why Wagner took on this role, as Sandler vilifies him almost every second he’s on screen for being a disgruntled, doomed losing player. And then the Sixers pick him anyway (natch) and seem to know within his first two weeks of practice that he was the wrong pick. Maybe he just wanted to meet Adam Sandler. I’m digressing
Matisse Thybulle had a couple of funny lines in the movie (SpringHill must not be checking vaccination statuses). Cruz first says “big fan” in a group with him and Philly native Kyle Lowry, and Thybulle naturally jokes, “How did you know I was talking to you?” And then, after a breakdown by Sandler, Thybulle goes to dinner with the Sixers owner and makes a sarcastic comment at the protagonist’s expense. My only request is more Maxey in the sequel, please.
Bryan Colangelo’s analogue
I can’t believe it took me 600 words to get to that. You guys. Okay. 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 begin with. Hustle. Rex and Stanley have a close relationship: Rex stands up for Stanley so much that he appoints Stanley as assistant coach on Doc Rivers’ bench (is he the thumbs-up/thumbs-down challenge type?) Early in the movie, Rex, Stanley, Vince, the guy who played Urkel (Jaleel White), and Billy King (??) are having a boardroom meeting about Haas, who Sandler had just finished scouting. The room is divided: Sandler implores Rex not to select him, citing character concerns and intermittent divisions. Vince, on the other hand, believes that he is the bee’s knee and dominates Stan in the meeting. Vince comes off as a real jerk from the start, to use a medical term.
Anyway, to trim some fat here, when Rex dies, the team is taken over by Vince, and he and his HUGE NECKLACES take over the team and immediately select Haas, despite his father’s last wishes. Then, at a poolside lunch with super agent Leon Rich played delightfully by Kenny Smith, it is revealed that Vince is considering trading Joel Embiid in an effort to make his mark on the Sixers! While not a 1:1 comparison, and physically with his bald head and bushy beard of his, Vince looks more like today’s Palo Alto Sam Hinkie than he does Bryan Colangelo, the Bryan comparisons are plentiful here, right? Daddy’s son takes over the team, proving incompetent at his job, alienating the star player, wearing huge necklaces, seeming unbearable to be around as he takes down the Sixers, making terrible draft decisions along the way. There’s a scene where Stanley is trying to talk to Vince and Vince spends a lot of time looking at his phone, not paying attention to him. Is he on one of his Twitter accounts? Or text Barbara?
Other NBA appearances
The most prominent in this regard was Anthony Edwards, who stole the show as the top prospect in the draft and Bo’s biggest on-court rival, Kermit Wilts. Edwards looks great on the court but his charisma going back and forth in scenes with Hernangomez was excellent. The viral clips of Edwards joking around with reporters translate perfectly to this role, and the villain part is perfect for him to continually annoy Bo in a humorous way.
Elsewhere, we have visits from Boban Marjanovic, Dr. J, Shaq, Charles Barkley, Khris Middleton at the NBA Combine (?), Trae Young, Aaron Gordon, Jordan Clarkson and more.
too close to home
Although true to life, I could have done without Hustle‘s insistence on reflecting the Sixers’ pattern of failures and disturbances over the years so accurately. Of course, there’s the aforementioned Colangelo-ian palace intrigue between Vince and the scouting department that led to the selection of Haas, but then at the end of the movie he banishes Vince to a broom closet somewhere when his ever-capable sister, Kat, takes over the franchise. But still, Sugarman’s pride and joy, Bo, ends up playing for the goddamn Celtics! A heartbreaker. Painful because it’s true and echoes what has happened in reality too often, but couldn’t things have shaken us up just this once?