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Monday, December 8, 2003
Updated: December 9, 12:00 PM ET
Rays of hope and a raise

By Rob Ryder
Special to Page 2

Eric Goodwin says goodbye and steps inside the plush trailer to join his identical twin brother, Aaron. They represent LeBron James. They are 'da bomb' -- polished, intelligent, ambitious, young African-Americans, taking care of business. We're not talking Tank Black here. This ain't no Master P. The Goodwins also represent Gary Payton, who's just finished shooting his part for a Playstation commercial. I turn to Nigel Miguel, an old friend who's coordinating the spot.

"That went nice," says Nigel (talking about the movie pitch I've just laid on Eric.)

He Got Game
Ray Allen, right, proved to be the ultimate team player while filming "He Got Game."
"You think?"

"Come over to our next location. Ray Allen."

"Cool," I say.

Nigel hands me a map. The gym is over at a Methodist Church on Wilshire. I drive over, park on the street and wander down alongside the church until I spot a couple of grips carrying equipment. The gym is upstairs. I walk in and climb the cold metal steps. The place is old and cramped and worn, but the backboards and rims are up and there's white sunlight spilling through some tall dusty windows.

This gym is a church. It's not just in a church, it is a church. Every gym is a church. It gets to you, when you let it. When you're alone with it. If you love basketball. If you've put in some time with the game.

When you walk into an empty gym ... it doesn't matter if it's a junior high school or Madison Square Garden ... there comes this wonderful sense of expectation, a sense that all things are possible, mixed with a twinge of anxiety, followed by a flush of well-being. Or it can be just a hoop, even. Outside. Driving along in the country -- some farm kid has nailed a rim to a telephone pole. Or the side of a barn. At the end of an alley. In the parking lot of a mattress store.

It's a thing called hope. And faith. If you look for them, you see these signs -- these implements of worship -- everywhere. And you see the followers of the faith, enraptured with sweat and effort, worshipping in the Church of Hoops. You don't have to believe in God. You have to believe in Michael.

Blah, blah, blah. The crew is dragging in cameras, pulling cable, mounting screens to further diffuse the light. The second A.D. appears and yells, "That's lunch, half an hour."

I catch Nigel on the stairs, talking on his cell. He motions, and we walk out and head across the parking lot to the lunch wagon. Crew eats first. Always. We linger, then join the end of the line. How's this sound? Grilled halibut, topped with fresh ceviche of scallops, shrimp and rockfish in a spicy salsa. Rib-eye steaks, grilled to order. Rice pilaf. Fettuccini alfredo. Potatoes au gratin. Carrots and peas. Asparagus spears slathered with hollandaise sauce. An endless salad bar. Breads, rolls, muffins. Cakes, pies, ice cream, coffee, sodas.

And to top it off as we're finishing this typical lunch, someone comes around with warm cookies and chocolate milkshakes in huge plastic cups.

He Got Game
Jesus Shuttlesworth's game off the court.
Ray Allen arrives. Nigel and I say hello and shake hands. Ray gets some food and sits down the way a bit with some of the crew. Everyone's cool. No one is rushing him.

"Too much fat in this meat," he says, pushing the plate away and concentrating on his vegetables. The man is in perfect condition. His body fat must be like point-3 or something.

The second A.D. strides by. "We're back. We're in."

The crew slowly stands, dumps trays and heads back into church. A pretty woman in her forties from wardrobe looks over from the next table.

"You must be Ray," she says.

"That's right."

"I'm gonna get you dressed," she says.

"You make it sound easy," says Ray.

They stare at each other and smile. A sweet exchange, not even flirtatious, really. Just Ray being Ray.

Up in the gym, they're still setting cameras for the first shot. Nigel is standing in for Ray at the foul line. Ray is sitting in a director's chair along the baseline near the video monitors. I wander up.

"Hey, Ray, have you done any movies since 'He Got Game'?

"Just 'Harvard Man'," he says.

"I somehow missed that one," I say. He doesn't smile. "Have you seen 'Playmakers'?" I ask.

"It's good. Man, that show is good."

"I think so too," I say.

"It's like they get it," adds Ray. "The dynamics ... all those shades of grey."

"They really nailed the casting," I say. "I buy those guys. My only quibble, you watch that show you think every player in the league is all messed up."

Playmakers
The rivalry between the aging Leon Taylor, left, and the brash, young D.H. is one of the best plot lines in 'Playmakers'.
"What do you wanna watch? Good guys?" says Ray. "Good guys are bad TV."

Later, I slide over to Nigel.

"Hey, Nigel, how long's Ray been in the league?"

"Uh, seven, eight years ... "

"Think he could play a college senior?"

Nigel looks over at Ray. "With that face? Easy."

"'94 Feet of Hell'," I say, referring to my basketball script. "There's a great part for him. A pure shooter who missed a big shot his last game."

"I already mentioned it," says Nigel. "He's gonna read the script this weekend."

In Hollywood, nobody reads. All these waitresses and valet parkers running around slipping people scripts, it's ridiculous. 'Cause nobody reads. They don't even read if that's their job. Agents don't read, actors don't read, studio executives don't read. Get it through your head. Nobody is gonna read your script.

They might buy it, though.

Nigel gets off his cell phone.

"Damn," he says. "Nike needs me in Sacramento tomorrow. We're shootin' LeBron."

"So?"

"So, could you cover for me? Up in Burbank. It's a spot for the Professional Bowlers Association. Six guys playin' hoops with a bowling ball."

"And for this, I would be paid how much money?" I ask.

"Five hundred, straight up," he says. "Plus, they said if they worked me into the scene, another 500."

"I'm in," I say.

"They're gonna blow up a backboard," adds Nigel.

"Stunt adjustment," I say. "Hazardous duty pay."

I hate explosions. I hate pyrotechnics. Too unpredictable. Way back when, I worked as a locations scout on "The Warriors." We needed a street where we could blow up a Cadillac. I found one out in Brooklyn someplace; but Walter Hill, the director, said it looked too open. So they sent me to some trucking joint over in Queens, where I rented six huge tractor-trailers and had them driven over and parked in the street.

Then Walter didn't like how bare they looked, so they sent out three union scenic artists who spent an entire day painting some lame-ass graffiti on one half of one side of one truck. Talk about milking a job. We all went home that night; the next morning, we're back and all six trailers are slathered in bold graffiti, front to rear, top to bottom.

That night, they wire the Caddy to blow it up. It's tense on the set. We're striding up and down the street, making sure it's all locked down, the neighbors out of harm's way. Way down the street, there's this old Italian couple, must have been in their '90s, who wanted to watch. They'd set up lawn chairs on the sidewalk. I asked an A.D. if we were safe there, and he looked at me funny.

"You're like 300 yards away."

"Yeah?"

"Of course you're safe," he sniffed.

They finally rolled cameras.

"Fire in the hole!" (They actually yell it.) The car blew up, and the huge steel hood came screaming straight at us on a line drive; flew right over our heads and smashed into the building behind us.

"Buono," said the old signora.

But the old man, he was pissed.

NEXT: THE BEST ATHLETE IN THE WORLD

Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works as a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at robryder@sbcglobal.net.