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Hollywood Hoopster: Simply Red

 


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| Dec. 8, 2006

Buy 'Hollywood Jock'
Red Auerbach almost got me fired. It was 1993, and I'd just scored my second basketball movie gig on Blue Chips. It turned out to be a real nightmare. First off the director, Billy Friedkin, was the guy who directed The Exorcist, and it was like he hadn't gotten it out of his system. Plus my buddy, Ron Shelton who directed White Men Can't Jump (my first hoops coordinator job) wrote the Blue Chips screenplay and was producing. Shelton and Friedkin didn't see eye to eye and I knew I'd get caught in the middle. (Ron was letting Friedkin direct it because it was the only way to get it made seeing as how Friedkin was married to Paramount President Sherry Lansing.)

On top of this, Bobby Knight had a sizable role in the movie and I dreaded the day we were shipping out to Indiana. Working with Bobby Knight is like walking through a minefield with Attila the Hun. On crack.

But first I had to get through Red Auerbach. Here's what happened in the middle of the movie Nolte suspects that one of his players shaved points so he goes back to the videotape to review the game. Which means it's a game we've got to shoot. Piece of cake, right? I do a couple of casting calls at the Hollywood Y, hire 24 players a great mix, most of them black, most of them played college ball, a lot of D1 in there. Nice size, they're in great shape, they look like college guys, and I figure they're just what's required for the ten seconds of videotape we need for the scene.

I tell Friedkin we're good to go, but no, he wants to see them. Not only that, he wants Red Auerbach and Pete Newell to check them out as well. It turns out that Friedkin's brought on the two octogenarian basketball Hall-of-Famers to guarantee the verisimilitude of the basketball. So we rent a gym, we bring in the players, plus Red and Pete (Red as crusty as Pete is gentlemanly). And I run a 10 minute scrimmage. After which Friedkin turns to Red Auerbach, "So Red, whaddaya think?"

"These guys can't fucking play," says Red. "They stink, the whole bunch of Oem."

Oh, man. From behind, I see Friedkin's neck flush with anger. His head swivels, his eyes lock on me and I'm thinking here comes the projectile vomit.

"Can you handle this job?" he asks in a steady voice.

"Yes," I answer.

"Then get the fuck out of here and bring me some real ball players."

I stagger out of the bleachers thinking, thanks a lot, Auerbach. This ain't the NBA, man. We're recreating one mediocre college basketball team here for God's sake. 10 seconds of videotape.

Two weeks later we get the word Red Auerbach has suffered a heart attack and won't be able to stay with us for the duration of the movie. Red, who tormented many a soul during his lifetime, wasn't done yet. He recovered nicely. A couple weeks later we shot the scene using the exact same players (Friedkin never knew the difference) and it all played great.

Red Auerbach lived on for 13 more years. His players loved him. His opponents hated him. Me? I survived him. But looking back at his career Uptempo offense, tenacious defense, in your face attitude. Plus the first NBA coach to draft a black player. What's not to like?

Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works as a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be emailed at robryder@ojai.net



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