Anyone with a cursory understanding of this site would assume, correctly, that I am a sports fan. What they don’t know, however, is where my true passions lie: mediocre television from my childhood years. I almost failed out of college when my “Dharma and Greg” fan fiction turned into something more sinister. My gigantic “3rd Rock From the Sun” memorabilia collection features thirty-four identical autographed 8x10s of French Stewart. I lose sleep at night sometimes over the decision to replace Michael J. Fox with Charlie Sheen (in an exhibition of his true artistic range that required him to play a womanizer named Charlie) on “Spin City.” I was ambushed by overzealous neighborhood children with BB guns on one grim Saturday, after I expressed my interest in watching a “Just Shoot Me” marathon on TBS. The list continues ad infinitum.
Since I have NOT been given the green light to write exclusively about this golden era in this country’s entertainment history, I had to find a way to incorporate sports into my writing. Luckily, the 90s and 2000s also happened to be a boom time for confusing and shoehorned appearances by NBA players on the very same kinds of shows. Brilliant. Let’s go on a ride through some of those, then, in no particular order:
Kendall Gill – “My Brother and Me” (1994)
“My Brother and Me” was a show on Nickelodeon that ran for all of thirteen episodes in 1994 and ’95. It also took place in some sort of alternate universe where Kendall Gill was every kid’s favorite basketball player, instead of a journeyman who never made an All-Star team. To his credit, he played in more NBA seasons than My Brother and Me had episodes. In this clip, our protagonists cannot contain their unbridled glee at seeing Mr. Gill at a charity bazaar, despite the fact that, at the time, Gill was probably the fourth-coolest player on his own team (He was then a member of the Charlotte Hornets, whose 1993-94 squad featured such cool guys as Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, and Muggsy “I guess, if being really short counts as cool” Bogues). Airing in the midst of a stacked Nickelodeon lineup that still featured such capital-c Cool fare as “Legends of the Hidden Temple,” “Hey Dude,” and “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” maybe we can say that My Brother and Me was the Kendall Gill of children’s television. Food for thought.
Shaquille O’Neal – Static Shock (2002)
I could write a doctoral dissertation about the many non-basketball cultural accolades of Shaquille O’Neal. Kazaam! Shaq Diesel! Shaq Fu! One day, when I find the right unaccredited for-profit degree mill, maybe it will be written. This particular Shaq sighting, however, contends with some of his more memorable appearances. The Kids WB Saturday morning lineup of the early aughts featured such beloved programs as “Pokemon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh.” Nestled in there somewhere was Static Shock, which I always turned off as soon as it came on, mainly because it coincided with “Beyblade.” At some point, someone at the WB decided to incorporate Shaq’s larger-than-life personality into the show. That’s a good idea on paper, perhaps, until you watch the above video, which is nowhere as amusing or entertaining as real-life Shaq talking to an animated drawing should be, his Poitier-esque acting chops wasted on the simplistic script and one-dimensional character written for him.
Grant Hill – “Living Single” (1994) – Video here
It’s hard to pick just one NBA player appearance on Living Single to include in this list. This is because the show also featured fabled star turns by NBA greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Cedric Ceballos (who isn’t a “great” as much as a “guy who once dunked blindfolded”, which is the same thing to me). I really only know “Living Single” exists because UPN would show reruns of it incessantly after I got my fill of “Divorce Court” on weekday afternoons after school when I was a third grader (and apparently not a very well supervised one, at that). The one scene from this show that stuck in my head throughout all the intervening years was this one, where then-young NBA hotshot Grant Hill is, for some reason, canoodling with Queen Latifah’s character, after serenading her with his velvety baritone. Just the kind of gentlemanly, fundamentally sound seduction one would expect from a Duke man.
I’m very curious to see how the interaction between Grant Hill and his agent about this appearance unfolded, my guess is something like this:
Agent: Good news, Grant. We got you a TV appearance on a hip and happening show .
Grant Hill: So I’m finally hosting “SNL”?
Agent: No, something more sitcom-like.
Grant Hill: They’re making me into a Simpsons character? Great, I’m a big fan of-
Agent: No, something live action.
Grant Hill: Well, Kareem already did “Full House.” Is it “Martin”? Do I get to be on “Martin”? I love Mar-
Agent: No, but I guess you’re getting warmer.
Grant Hill: You could have just told me I’d be doing “Living Single.” At least nobody is going to remember this in 20 years.
The clip goes on to show more “Living Single,” so I decided that it would probably be better to stop watching it right there.
Everyone – “NBA Inside Stuff” (1990-2002)
No chronicle of the intersection between the NBA and television would be complete without mentioning “NBA Inside Stuff,” which made basketball seem funnier to me than any past, present, or future sitcom appearance by an NBA player. In the video, you do not have to go more than ten seconds in to see Pat Riley dancing among a multitude of children wearing spray-painted overalls. That alone is worth the price of admission, but it keeps going. At the 27-second mark, the Cavs’ Zydrunas Ilgauskas trips on himself, then proceeds to trip two of his teammates with his felled limbs, in the most Cavs play ever (it was even against the Heat!) There are cameos by the aforementioned Shaq and Grant Hill, that are just of them making noises for no reason. Shawn Bradley is in it doing something other than getting dunked on. I don’t understand why this program was specifically targeted to children, when it should really just have been what NBA telecasts show at halftime instead of interviews and studio chatter. I’d watch a channel composed of just this.