Feature: Stars of stage, screen and arena

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  July 10, 2002 at 4:42 PM
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LOS ANGELES, July 10 (UPI) -- Hollywood's long-running partnership with the sports world may soon feature a new TV show created and produced by Shaquille O'Neal, the star center of the three-time NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

According to a report in Daily Variety, O'Neal recently pitched the project to executives from major networks. It's described as a one-hour drama that follows the friendship between two basketball players.

One executive who attended the pitch meeting gave O'Neal high marks for his presentation.

"It was a much more impressive pitch than your traditional pitch by a sports figure," the unnamed executive said.

O'Neal is no stranger to a movie set.

He has starred in features, as a magic genie in "Kazaam" and a designer of military weapons who takes on street gangs in "Steel." And he has appeared, usually as himself, in a half dozen pictures including "Freddy Got Fingered," "He Got Game" and "Good Burger." He even played a basketball player in the 1994 Nick Nolte movie "Blue Chips."

On top of that, O'Neal has made five rap albums -- "Shaq Diesel," "Shaq Fu: Da Return," "You Can't Stop the Reign," "Respect" and "The Best of Shaquille O'Neal."

O'Neal would not be able to star full-time in the show, since he'll be busy pursuing a fourth straight NBA title. However, the pitch called for him to appear occasionally as a guest star.

Judith McCreary -- a supervising producer on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" -- would write and executive produce the show. McCreary was a producer on the Showtime drama "The Hoop Life," starring Mykelti Williamson -- set in the world of the fictional United Basketball Association.

The report comes on the same day as ESPN presents its 10th ESPY Awards, which has enrolled the Hollywood's A-list to help honor the best in sports. Samuel L. Jackson ("Star Wars," "XXX") will host the show at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood -- the new home of the Academy Awards.

The list of presenters includes Tim Allen, Diane Lane, Toni Braxton, Brian McKnight, Matthew Perry, Adam Sandler and Kiefer Sutherland. Tom Hanks recorded the voiceover for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award presentation.

Santana, Snoop Dogg, Bootsy Collins and the Original P-Funk will perform. Clarence Clemons Temple of Soul will be the house band.

The show will feature athletes too.

ESPY nominees include Muhammad Ali, Bill Belichick, Barry Bonds, Bob Brenly, Kobe Bryant, Chris Chelios, Joe Frazier, Lisa Leslie, Jason Sehorn, Kurt Warner and Serena Williams.

The nexus between sports arena and soundstage goes back generations in American culture.

In the 1920s Paul Robeson -- a football All-American who also lettered in basketball, baseball and track at Rutgers -- segued from the playing field to the Broadway stage and the silver screen. In the '30s and '40s, Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Johnny Weissmuller became a Hollywood legend starring in a series of "Tarzan" movies.

Hollywood has turned out hundreds of sports biographies, celebrating -- or trashing, as the case may be -- the lives of such athletes as Jimmy Piersall ("Fear Strikes Out"), Rocky Marciano ("Somebody Up There Likes Me") and Babe Ruth ("The Babe Ruth Story").

Some -- like "Knute Rockne All American" and "Brian's Song" -- were classics, while others were less than memorable, and yet others were real stinkers. It is not necessary to single out the worst of the genre -- movie and sports fans already know them and avoid them with special care.

Sports-themed movies like "Hoosiers," "White Men Can't Jump," "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams" have become perennial favorites among consumers who like to mix their entertainment media. Some sports movies -- "Rocky," "Chariots of Fire" -- hit the heights in Hollywood, winning best picture Oscars.

Professional athletes such as Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Joe Namath and Don Meredith made good livings for a time as movie actors. Some sports legends, including Ali, were mainly featured as themselves in various Hollywood projects.

Willie Mays played Willie Mays in "When Nature Calls." Ted Williams played himself in "Korean War Stories" and Joe DiMaggio made a cameo appearance in "Angels in the Outfield," the 1951 baseball drama-comedy that was remade in 1994 with Danny Glover.

Some sports purists hold out against the notion, but the record suggests that sports and show business are so closely related -- it's almost impossible to conceive of either enterprise enjoying full prosperity without the other.

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