“Hustle,” a sports drama co-produced by LeBron James and starring Adam Sandler, is getting rave reviews from film critics and basketball fanatics alike. The film’s story and Sandler’s superb acting are part of its success. A behind-the-scenes look reveals that the filmmakers made an all-out effort to make everything authentic.
Aiming for authenticity
Sandler plays an international scout, a role he portrayed effortlessly and with flare. Dell Demps, a real NBA scout, was one of those key figures who helped him slip into the role. According to one of the film’s co-producers, Demps shared everything he could with Sandler. Sandler acted like a sponge absorbing an NBA scout’s behavior, thought pattern, and mannerisms.
“He helped give Adam all the little things. Of just, you know all the stuff scouts do on the road, how they travel, looking at footage, what they would say here, what they would do,” said Joseph Vessey, one of the co-producers of the film.
The “Hustle” film crew worked closely with the NBA to capture the spirit of the league as an association and a business. They reached out to figures like Demps who served as consultants. Those who have seen the film will see actual players — current and retired — portray themselves. This added a robust layer of realism — an element that propels films from good ones to timeless classics.
One of the film’s most impressive sets is the NBA Combine court, where many vital scenes occur. Greg St. Jean, a Dallas Mavericks assistant head coach, and Kenny Smith — both of which star in the film — praised the NBA Combine set.
“Earlier this summer I coached at the NBA Combine and from an authenticity standpoint, this looks identical,” St. Jean said.
“And it looks — look at it! It looks like the Combine,” Smith said.
Apart from the NBA Combine film set, the Philadelphia 76ers conference room also caught the eye of team arena host Christian Crosby. He couldn’t believe how the production designers were able to construct a replica of their office.
“When I walked on the set and realized this is a perfect replica of the 76ers conference room. This is exactly how it looks at our practice facility and our office. When I walked in here, I was like “Yo! What? What?” Crosby said.
Featuring real NBA players, scouts, coaches, and constructing sets that look like the real ones seem like a tedious job, not to mention a costly one. The filmmakers could have just shot everything on a green screen and gotten actors to act as players and coaches. But given the film’s critical acclaim thus far, safe to say that they made the right move. There’s no substitute for the real thing.