All Your Sixers-Related Questions About 'Hustle' Answered
Yes, there’s another Sixers-related Adam Sandler movie.
Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
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The funniest part of Hustle was definitely the noise my girlfriend made when I told her there was *another* Adam Sandler movie about the Sixers I needed to watch. (No chance I can do it justice in print, just to say it was a visceral, guttural, equally incredulous and furiously yelped version of the word "what" that somehow had about 17 h's in it.) To her point, it is pretty fucking remarkable that there are now multiple (as in, more than one) movies in the Sandler Cinematic Universe that include references to Jrue Holiday, a wild thing for a guy with no obvious Philly connections and who wasn't even particularly associated with basketball for most of his career. Credit to the Sandman for recognizing the cinematic potential in the franchise of Spencer Hawes, Chukwudi Okafor, and the (sesame? peanut?) allergy that nearly killed Zhaire Smith, I guess.
Anyway, Hustle: It's fine. A competent mix of The Air Up There, The Trouble With the Curve, and a couple of the less-cartoonish installments in the Rocky franchise. Sandler plays a Sixers scout with a past trying to graduate to being a Sixers assistant coach with a past, who sees an undiscovered Spanish streetballer (played by Juancho Hernangomez) as his ticket to redemption. Sandler is his usual charismatic self -- which is a good thing, because he essentially has to act for two in the scenes with Hernangomez, whose on-screen presence is about as dynamic as Matisse Thybulle's perimeter offense. But Queen Latifah is fun as his medium-suffering wife, Anthony Edwards should be the next Bond villain, and there's a mix of NBA-world cameos and NBA figures playing others characters that creates moments of hilarious fictional-universe tension (like when Hernangomez's fictional baller laces up against his real-life brother Willy, or when an Inside the NBA scene is notably missing Kenny Smith, because the Jet is busy playing a Rich Paul-y superagent). It's decent-enough Wednesday night entertainment, certainly.
But you don't really care about any of that stuff, do you? Of course not: You wanna know what the deal is with the Sixers in this Hustleverse. Well, I’ll tell you right off that it’s probably best not to go in expecting much in the way of references to the James Anderson game or the Furkan Korkmaz workout hype videos -- but beyond that, here's answers to any questions about this movie you might have.
Which Sixers are actually in It?
In terms of prominent appearances from current Sixer players, it's Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle and Tobias Harris. Maxey gets half a line about Holiday's defense, Thybulle gets to banter with Real Philly Guy Kyle Lowry a little, and Tobias Harris plays the good sport getting schooled by Hernangomez in a game of one-on-one. Seth Curry also shows up to ohhhhh at various Hernangomez highlights, while Doc Rivers gets a short back-and-forth with Sandler about the former being a better dresser. Former Sixer great Boban Marjanovic shows off some behind-the-back moves and gets told by Sandler that he "would be in our rotation right now," which is funny for multiple reasons. Julius Erving also stops by to Be Iconic for about a half-minute, and Allen Iverson makes a "we talkin' about practice" reference. I think I saw Aaron McKie's and Mo Cheeks' names in the credits somewhere. Joel Embiid is conspicuously absent; maybe the third time will finally be the charm with him actually showing up in one of these Sandler Sixers movies.
Does Sam Hinkie make an appearance?
Of course not, though for some reason I believed my Billboard co-worker Carl for about a minute when he lied to me yesterday about there being a cameo from our Dark Lord. Could've happened!
Do either Ben Simmons or James Harden exist on this version of the Sixers?
Hard to tell for sure, but it certainly doesn't seem like it. Embiid is mentioned but not seen (outside of an opening tipoff against Boston, played over the closing credits), but Simmons is an absolute ghost. Given that Seth Curry is on the court for that closing game, you have to figure this version of the Sixers exists pre-Harden trade, so Simmons would still be on the roster -- though if the season that the movie ends on is supposed to be the 2021-22 season, I guess we wouldn't have seen much of Ben on the court anyway. In any event, the Sixers' core is listed as one point as "Embiid, Maxey, Harris," so clearly neither player is seen as bearing heavily on the team's future prospects -- which I suppose could technically be the real-life case for Philly as soon as this offseason, depending.
How good are the Sixers supposed to be in this universe?
Never explicitly stated, but you get the sense it's pretty close to reality: There's lots of one-player-away implications and "missing piece" talk, and a pervasive sense of urgency about the upcoming season needing to be The Season. The movie has somewhat confusing ideas about how to get said missing piece, however; no focus seems to be put on trade or free agency, with the Sixers instead putting all their chips on the draft (and on Sandler's scouting prowess), evidently believing that adding a high-ceiling rookie to their mix is their surest route to immediate playoff success. It wouldn't be the worst governing strategy a Sixers front office has had this century, I suppose.
What kind of draft capital do these Sixers have?
This is the part where the movie really starts to diverge from reality -- though the Sixers are competitive enough to be close to the title mix, they also apparently still have valuable picks in the bank from both the Hawks and the Kings, referenced in separate scenes by separate characters. (A large part of me suspects this was actually supposed to be the same team's pick, but someone fucked up the continuity.) Still, it's nice to imagine a world in which the Sixers both became competitive and didn't fuck up pretty much everything besides Embiid that Hinkie originally left us with, and that we could still have an excuse to hold Lottery Parties after we inevitably get eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
Are there any deep old Sixers references that would make Dave "WhereIsBenRivera" Reuter happy?
Not particularly, though there is a moment where Duvall shows Sandler his new assistant coach's office (before his dick son reneges on the promotion), and there appears to be a calendar schedule left on the wall from the '95-'96 season.
Possibly fake, but still at least a 15% chance this one is also hanging up in the Reuter rec room.
What's the least-plausible Sixers-related part of this movie?
It's close. There's a kindly owner character played by Robert Duvall, Rex Merrick, who trusts and cares for Sandler and wants to build his team the right way and (of course) dies 15 minutes into the movie so that his prickish son can take over and be rude to people. So beloved is he as an owner, though, that when Sandler hears of his death listening to The Fanatic, Anthony Gargano sounds like he's in near tears as he announces the passing of "our beloved Rex... he was just like everybody else in this town. He built great wealth, but he never distanced himself from us." Listening to this and thinking about Josh Harris trying to cut staffer salaries at the height of the pandemic in 2020, pretty hard not to giggle.
The real finger in the eye of Sixers fans, though, has to be the scene where Sandler and Kenny Smith's character are having breakfast in Spain, and Smith talks about a mythical projected first overall pick named "Zeke" who apparently the Sixers' terrible owner has his eye on. When Sandler rebuts that Zeke going first overall means the Sixers are out of the mix for him, Smith counters, "He could trade up, package Embiid with that Kings pick..." Whoa, whoa, hold the fucking teléfono: package Embiid... with a KINGS PICK... to move up in the draft??? For literally any draft pick, ever???? Well, at least the Ringer now has competition for the most insulting Joel Embiid trade ever proposed. Sure, this is the Sixers' terrible new owner we're talking about, but Smith humors the notion -- and Sandler responds incredulously to its mention, but doesn't scream or storm out of the breakfast or even give Smith a deadarm for merely saying it out loud. Please don't ever watch this movie, JoJo -- and definitely delete any texts about it that Jimmy Butler sends you.
Are there any good Philly music moments in the movie?
Well, there are Philly music moments, anyway. Sandman drives around with his daughter listening to The Roots and Cody ChesnuTT's "The Seed 2.0." After Gargano delivers his short eulogy for Our Beloved Rex, he plays Beanie Sigel's "Feel It in the Air" in tribute. (From his brief appearance, Rex did not look like he'd be much of a Beans fan, though who knows what kind of music he absorbed from the locker room back in those halcyon '00s days.) There's a Freeway song at one point, though not the one that's now gonna be associated with the Sixers forever. Surprisingly, despite there being multiple running/training montages, the movie resists the temptation to indulge in either Bill Conti or Meek Mill, which I suppose is commendable.
Is it a better Sixers movie than Uncut Gems?
I wouldn't say so. Obviously it involves the Sixers more inextricably, and has a more positive outlook on the nature of Sixers basketball (and human nature in general) than Gems -- but the violent emotional swings, erratic decision-making and overall total chaos of Gems just felt way closer to the actual experience of Sixers fandom than this quippy, feel-good motivational poster of a movie. There's more Philly fandom in Howard Ratner howling "DOESN'T THAT MAKE YOU WANNA STEP ON ELTON BRAND'S FUCKIN' NECK??!?" at Kevin Garnett than there is in 100 scenes of Sandler and Queen Latifah getting cheesesteaks at Pat's, certainly.
Does Adam Sandler offer any kind of commentary on Sixers fans?
Sure: “Best sports fan in the world - actually the worst, but that’s what makes them the best.” (And then later, sarcastically: "Luckily, Philadelphia sports fans are calm, reasonable people.") It's a fair cop.