Two decades earlier in a wild spreading that connected everyone from Kobe Bryant to Tracy McGrady to Coney Island’s very own Stephon Marbury, a star was born


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This is the second of 2 stories celebrating the 20-year anniversary of basketsphere cult classical He Got Game. The initially covers the pair of Air Jordan 13s the film made well known. Directed by Spike Lee and starring Ray Allen and Denzel Washington, it hit theaters on May 1, 1998.

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“Once,” claims Stephon Marbury, matter-of-factly.

That’s exactly how many times, in two decades, the previous NBA All-Star and also three-time Chinese Basketsphere Association champion has actually watched He Got Video Game. But he may understand the story of Spike Lee’s 1998 film, the biggest hoops saga to ever before grace the silver screen, much better than anyone.

An 18-year-old basketsphere player comes of age in the Coney Island location of Brooklyn, New York. This player athas a tendency Abraham Lincoln High School, where he wins a state championship and also emerges as the No. 1 prospect in the nation. This teenager is challenged through a man’s decision: attend college or make the jump right to the NBA. This was in the era prior to the one-and-done rule, establiburned in 2006, which requires players to be 19 years old, or one year out of high school, to sign up with the league.

In 1995, Stephon Marbury led Lincoln to a win in the Public Schools Athletic Organization (P.S.A.L.) title game at New York City’s Madichild Square Garden and also was called Mr. New York Basketball. He was a Parade magazine and also McDonald’s All-Amerideserve to and also the consensus National Player of the Year. On Coney Island, Marbury’s family was basketround nobility. Don and also Mabel Marbury’s three eldest sons — Eric, Donnie and Norguy — all played Division I, and also in the time of child Stephon’s college recruitment, his house flooded via trophies, medals, plaques and market letters, the New York Daily News composed that Marbury had been “touted by some as the best allude guard to ever come out of New York City.”

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He also came to be the topic of Darcy Frey’s 1994 The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketround Dreams, as well as a Nightline special, for which ABC video camera crews followed him around his area for a year and a fifty percent. Marbury could’ve gone to any type of college in the world, but he embraced a scholarship from Georgia Tech and also played in Atlanta for one season before advertising for the NBA. Two years after Marbury was selected via the fourth as a whole pick in the ’96 draft, He Got Game premiered.

On May 1, 1998, the civilization met Jesus Shuttlesworth, the fictional phenom from Coney Island’s Lincoln High, depicted on display screen by Ray Allen, then a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. Spoiler alert: In the finish, choose Marbury, Jesus picks college over the NBA. “It’s pretty noticeable who they were doing the movie on,” said Marbury using phone from China. He’s 41 now, and newly reworn down from basketround. “It doesn’t take rocket science to figure that one out. Who else are you doing it on? What various other player …?”

In a 1998 interwatch with The New York Times, Spike Lee, born in Atlanta and raised in Brooklyn, addressed the eerie similarities between Marbury and also Shuttlesworth. “Even though Stephon, and also his father, and his brothers, might think this is the Marbury story, it’s not about them,” Lee sassist. “Coney Island has actually been basketsphere crazy for a lengthy time. And the story is not distinctive. It happens to many these youngsters.”


Marbury had actually a different factor for not . “I just didn’t feel that I necessary to audition to be me … Because I kbrand-new the movie was about me.”

The idea for He Got Game involved Lee at the research of his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, that tested Lee to craft, without co-writers, an original screenplay for the initially time considering that his 1991 Jungle Fever before. Once he finimelted writing, Lee knew he wanted Denzel Washington for the function of Jake Shuttlesworth, the protagonist’s father that was imprisoned for killing Jesus’ mom. Jake is granted a short-lived release from Attica Correctional Facility so he can persuade his child to attend the governor of New York’s alma mater, Big State College. If Jake delivers, the governor will execute every little thing in his power to trim his sentence. Lee sent out the script by FedEx to Washington, who called two days later on and signed on. Washington, fresh off Courage Under Fire and also The Preacher’s Wife, who had worked through Lee on Malcolm X and also Mo’ Betta Blues, also lowered his skyrocketing salary to star in the movie, which cost $23 million to make.

In Washington, Lee had actually a bona fide movie star to put butts in the seats at the theater. But Lee agonized over spreading. “I kept thinking … who am I gonna actors to play Jesus?” Lee told PBS’s Charlie Rose in May 1998, after He Got Video Game became the director’s initially film to open No. 1 at the box office. “I knew I had actually to acquire a ballplayer from the NBA to play Jesus … it would’ve been a riskier relocate obtaining an actor to show those abilities that we required on the court … you have the right to obtain ameans via that in boxing films, basesphere movies and also footsphere movies. But for basketround, you need somebody who have the right to play. And there’s no actor this day — that I know — that skills choose … they’re pro product.”

Before filming the job in the summer of 1997, Lee put together a long list of NBA players — from Ray Allen to Kobe Bryant to Kevin Garnett, to Tracy McGrady and more — that he’d think about for the duty. But only one might be Jesus.

“I was among the players that was asked to audition,” Marbury sassist with an abrupt pausage, “… to play me.”


Big Time Willie: “A lot of good ballplayers came out of Coney Island also, yet many of them didn’t amount to s—.”

Jesus Shuttlesworth: “What about Stephon Marbury? He made it. … If he deserve to make it out of here, so can I.

It’s March 4, 1997. The Milwaukee Bucks are visiting the Garden. A lifelengthy New York Knicks superfan, Lee, as expected, is in the structure, perched in his usual courtside seat. After an initial half of eyeing sharpshooting rookie Allen, 22, whom Milwaukee traded to obtain the night of the ’96 draft (in exadjust for Marbury), Lee approaches the shooting guard. In this minute, the director doesn’t play his normal heckling duty. He’s a recruiter.

“Spike says, ‘Hey, I’m doing a movie. I’d love for you to audition for it,’ ” shelp the now-retired Allen, 42, a 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketround Hevery one of Fame inductee. “I offered him my indevelopment … but didn’t know if it was going to amount to anypoint.” A month later, when the Bucks fairesulted in advance to the playoffs, Allen took up Lee on his offer and also met with him in New York.

“He told me, ‘I want you to audition for the lead function, yet if you don’t acquire it, you might possibly get role in the movie.’ ” Allen had never before acted a single day in his life. “I told him I’d love to try my hand.”

On the other hand, Lee was courting players from anywhere — a perk of being among the NBA’s courtside fixtures. “My rookie seachild with the Knicks, in warm-ups or during the game, I’d run by Spike and also say, ‘Placed me in a movie! Put me in a movie!” sassist College of Evansville head basketsphere coach Walter McCarty, additionally a former assistant coach in the NBA. “I’d simply be joking approximately, giving him a difficult time. But I get a speak to after the season, choose, ‘Hey, Spike wants you to come check out.’ I didn’t get Jesus Shuttlesworth’s component however was excellent sufficient for him to say, ‘We got an additional component for you.’ ”

Lee eventually cast McCarty (as Lincoln High player Mance) and also a handful of NBA function players as secondary characters, from Travis Best of the Indiana Pacers (as Lincoln High player Sip) to Rick Fox of the Boston Celtics (as Chick Deagan, Jesus’ organize on a recruiting visit) and also John Wallace (as Lincoln player Lonnie), additionally of the Knicks.

But for Jesus, Lee envisioned a skilled, rising superstar who might pass as a teenager. “I was pretty aware that he was going after,” Allen shelp. “He wanted Kobe to audition. He wanted K.G. to audition. He wanted Steph to audition. And he wanted Felipe Lopez.” Then a hooper for St. John’s College in Queens, New York, Lopez’s name doesn’t show up in any reports from the late ’90s as a Shuttlesworth candidate. That reflects simply exactly how much and wide Spike was looking — and also it didn’t sheight tright here.

According to a Washington Article story published the day He Got Video Game debuted, straight-outta-high college Toronto Raptors rookie McGrady, 18, then the NBA’s youngest player, auditioned but “was judged as well scheduled for the part.” Allen Iverboy, 1996’s No. 1 pick and 1997’s Rookie of the Year, “wasn’t ready once he came in for auditions and appeared distracted,” as the Message comprehensive.

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In 1998, Allen told The Vancouver Sun that Derek Anderboy, one of his fellow members on the original Team Jordan, check out for the part.

“I wanna say Allan Houston too,” McCarty recalled from his round of auditions. USA Today likewise reported that Denver Nuggets massive man Danny Fortkid was lugged in — and also, even more intriguing, that sports agent Eric Fleisher, who repped Minnesota Timberwolves teammates Garnett and also Marbury at the time, passed up on the possibility for both of his clients. Garnett “respectfully declined” to be interperceived for this story. “Fleisher said, ‘Unmuch less you guarantee a good component, they’re not coming in,’ ” Lee told USA Today. “I sassist, ‘Look, come on, I’m not a GM. This isn’t the NBA. This is the movies. Tbelow are no guaranteed contracts in cinema.’ ”

Marbury had actually a various reason for not coming in. “I just didn’t feel that I necessary to audition to be me,” he sassist, adding that he was unmindful Garnett was likewise taken into consideration. “Since I kbrand-new the movie was around me.”

In Allen’s initially audition, he rehearsed a love scene via Salli Richardboy, that read for the component of Lala Bonilla, which was eventually given to Rosario Dawchild. “It was choose make-believe,” Allen remembered, placing himself back in that spreading room. “We were all playing roughly, going through lines. But I didn’t know if I could act to their requirements.” He was called back for a second audition. Then a third, his greatest test yet, as he sat across from Washington to check out. “I was in awe,” Allen writes in his recently released biography From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love. “I felt chemisattempt in between the two of us, as did Spike.”

On June 19, 1997, The Associated Press damaged the news that Allen had been “tapped for a role in Spike Lee’s upcoming movie He Got Video Game.” Five days later on, a contrary report surconfronted. “While Kobe Bryant’s still working on making the shift from high school to NBA Star, he can attempt functioning on movie stardom, too,” reads Daily Variety on June 24, 1997. “Spike Lee is eyeing the Los Angeles Lakers rookie for the lead role alongside Denzel Washington in his … He Got Video Game.”