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Outside the Lines

Wednesday
Action heroes: Why athletes get work in Hollywood

Thursday
Your Oscars: Vote for favorite athlete-actor performances

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A Fox in tinseltown: Lakers' veteran cases the joint

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Rick Fox says athletes learn from their sport to react, not act.
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Fox understands the disrepect that some regular actors have for athletes who try to get into their business.
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Tuesday, June 3
The L.A. story: Opportunity
By Tom Farrey
ESPN.com

The first hour or so after a game can be a mundane time for NBA players, between trying to get dressed in a locker room full of strangers, fielding the unwelcome questions from reporters, and mulling over what went right or wrong that night.

But for the Los Angeles Lakers, when the final horn sounds, the fun is just beginning.

Rick Fox
Rick Fox, here on the set of "Four Faces of God," has the kind of summer job that comes more easily to L.A. athletes.
"More often than not you walk out of the locker room and you bump into a star," said Rick Fox, Lakers guard-forward. "It might be Brendan Fraser who wants to talk, or some producer."

For Fox, these encounters are like Peter Lynch calling regularly to talk about investing. A budding actor with several film credits to his name, Fox uses these meetings to learn about their craft, or make friends with people who can open doors down the road when he hopes to work full-time in the industry.

Those opportunities aren't hard to come by. Since the birth of the movie industry, athletes of Los Angeles-area teams have benefited from playing in the entertainment capital of the world, using their sports celebrity as a springboard into television and movies.

Athletes and actors across the country share a mutual admiration society -- many think the others have the greatest jobs in the world, outside of perhaps their own. But in Los Angeles, that society comes together on a nightly basis, in the form of games, parties and projects.

John Wayne played at USC. So did O.J. Simpson. Chuck Connors was noticed not when he reached the majors, but while doing time with the minor-league Los Angeles Angels. Television actor Mark Harmon played quarterback at UCLA. Neither the burly Merlin Olsen nor lanky Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was matinee-idol material, but both found work in the industry.

On ESPN
On television and online, explore the world of athlete-actors in the latest Outside the Lines special. A three-part series on ESPN.com features articles, polls and a chat session with Brian Bosworth.

On ESPN, watch the half-hour show on the subject Friday at 7 p.m. ET. The show also re-airs five hours later at midnight ET and Mar. 16 at 4 a.m. ET.
Location, location, location: Since joining the Lakers in 1996, Shaquille O'Neal has had the lead role in three movies. O'Neal describes an environment in which producers regularly come to him with ideas, rather than the other way around.

"I'm a realist," O'Neal said. "I know that because of basketball, doors have opened for me. It's not like Hollywood people have been following me since high school when they saw I had a low F in drama class."

Former Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long said he hadn't even considered a movie career before taking a supporting role in "Broken Arrow," the 1996 John Travolta action thriller about a renegade bomber pilot. Later, he got an even larger role in "Firestorm," about firemen who parachute into the hearts of forest fires.

"To tell you the truth, with me it just happened as kind of a coincidence," Long said. "I think the question was asked of an executive at 20th Century Fox while I was at Fox Sports, 'Why haven't you guys met with this guy in the sports division that looks like an action guy?' "

The appeal of being near the movie industry can give Los Angeles teams a recruiting advantage. As a free agent in 1997, Rick Fox was offered a multi-year, $20 million contract by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He turned it down for a one-year, $1 million deal with the Lakers, who were hamstrung by the salary cap. After six years in Boston, he was drawn to the idea of playing for an O'Neal-led team with championship potential.

Rick Fox credits
Movies

  • "Resurrection" ('99), as Det. Scholfield
  • "The Collectors" ('99), as Ray
  • "He Got Game" ('98), as Chick Deagan
  • "A Simple Wish" ('97)
  • "Eddie" ('96), as Terry Hastings
  • "Blue Chips" ('94), as member of Texas Western Team

    TV

  • "Oz" ('97), as Jackson Veyhugh
  • "Head Over Heels" ('97), as himself

  • And while Fox said the Hollywood advantage was not the driving factor in his decision to take less money, it certainly didn't hurt that he had developed a passion for acting while with the Celtics.

    Before a game at Madison Square Garden in 1996, Fox introduced himself to Spike Lee, told him about a bit part he had recently played in the Whoopi Goldberg movie "Eddie," and asked the director for work. That led to a role in Lee's movie "He Got Game," as the college basketball player who introduces the Ray Allen character, Jesus Shuttleworth, to a couple of sexually accommodating women on his campus visit.

    At the Staples Center, Fox finds even more potential employers staring back at him from the crowd. He rattles off names of directors, actors and influence-brokers as if he were the star-struck spectator at Laker games: "I mean, Penny Marshall is courtside. You got Jack (Nicholson) and Denzel (Washington). The head of the William Morris Agency is there. (Ally McBeal creator) David E. Kelley comes to some games ..."

    Fox catches himself. "I want to jump into conversations with them, but I'm working!"

    Fox does not pursue any roles that would require him to work during the Lakers' season, nor is he under any illusions that the movie industry is clamoring for him to give up basketball. His acting career is something that he hopes will grow slowly over time, as he develops his skills. To get better, he has worked with an acting coach at Boston University the past three years.

    Not all athletes have been so methodical -- especially those with greater celebrity names than that of Rick Fox.

    "What makes you think you can wake up one morning and be an actor without doing all the things that I did to get to be (what I am)?" said Samuel L. Jackson, speaking generally of athletes who become actors. "It's just like me waking up and saying, 'I think I'll call the Bulls and see if I can play guard today.' "

    Someday, Fox tells himself. Someday.

    Fox figures he has a few more years left in the NBA. In the meantime, he comforts himself with the memory of the press conference that introduced him as a new member of the Lakers. When it was over, an elderly woman approached him outside of the hotel. "I know you," she said. "You're that guy on 'Oz' " -- an HBO docudrama in which Fox played a fictional NBA star convicted of battery and rape.

    It was the first time anyone recognized him as an actor, not an athlete. Fox had truly arrived in L.A.

    Tom Farrey is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at tom.farrey@espn.com.



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