“A basketball scout discovers a phenomenal street ball player while in Spain and sees the prospect as his opportunity to get back into the NBA.”

Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Writers: Taylor Materne, Will Fetters
Staring: Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah, Juancho Hernangomez, Ben Foster, Anthony Edwards, Kenny Smith, Robert Duvall
Release Date: June 8, 2022

When Hustle (2022) came out, it was the talk of the town. Absolutely everyone at work was talking about it. My social media was ablaze toasting the acting talents of certain NBA stars, and the world was commending Adam Sandler for breathing a real life basketball feel into the story.

Turns out, everyone was right. I was late to arrive at Hustle. It got buried in my queue and, I’ll be honest, I forgot about it. But it turns out I should have made this a must-watch when it was first released. Hustle is the best basketball movie since The Way Back (2020), and this story is much more about the basketball than it is about a person. But with that being said, there is a ton of humanity in the story. Hustle really is a full court pass, and it lands right in the audiences’ hands. You’ll be wanting to jump through the gym as the stakes climb.

Stanley Sugarman (Adam Sandler) is a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers with aspirations of getting on the bench as a coach. He is granted this opportunity by 76ers owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall), but a short time later Rex passes away. Stanley has his has opportunity ripped away from him by Rex’s son Vince (Ben Foster) and soon he is back on the road, grinding once again.

In his travels he finds a hidden treasure in Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez). He does everything he can to convince the 76ers and Vince that Bo is worth taking a chance on, but nobody is listening. Sugar and his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) take in Bo and treat him like family as he preps too potentially be drafted by someone. As the NBA Draft approaches, Bo and Stanley go through various challenges and have to overcome many doubters. As the story of Hustle unfolds, Bo and Stanley have to rely on one another for motivation and success. It becomes an us-against-the world, David vs. Goliath tale. Classic sports cinema, but in the best way possible.

Adam Sandler As Stanley Sugarman

It is really, really hard to dislike Adam Sandler. This man does the one-for-me, one-for-you most obviously in Hollywood. However, this time around, he blended both. Hustle is right in his wheel house. He gets to really act (which he is really good at) while still stretching his comedic abilities with outstanding one-liners. Sandler loves to hoop, and that passion is evident in the character he plays. Stanley Sugarman loves the grind and can spot the intangible things in a player that are increasingly important. Have to think that this character is a bit like the process of acting; you have the grind to get parts, but over time you get better and soon you see the little things in a character and script that others can’t.

To put it plainly, there are an absolute shit ton of NBA players in Hustle. Spanning from past to present, the casting crew gathered plenty of familiar faces that make the movie’s action incredibly realistic and fluid. Juancho Hernangomez plays the lead, and it is a perfect fit. If we are in reality, he is not the best player that we see in the movie. But in Hustle, he is the perfect underdog who is a reasonable up and coming talent. We see Hernangomez matchup and interact with players like Kenny Smith, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Dr. J, Trae Young, Jordan Clarkson, Aaron Jordan, and more.

There are also some front office and coaching personalities like Jay Wright and Brad Stevens. If you have knowledge of the NBA universe, then Hustle will draw you in. And if you love the NBA world, then Hustle will strangle you with Leonardo DiCaprio “HEY THAT GUY” Once Upon In…Hollywood (2019) GIF type vibes.

Of all the NBA stars the appeared in Hustle, the breakout star was Anthony Edwards. There were acting coaches on the set for Juancho and anyone who needed one, and I am willing to bet these coaches were floored by what Edwards was brining. He was acting with the eyes, the body language. He used voice inflection great. He was playing the bad guy and doing it to a tee. Dillion Brooks wishes that he was Kermit Wilts.

Director Jeremiah Zagar has said in interviews that at first he didn’t want a part of Hustle. He wasn’t sure it was right for him. He told Adam Sandler, who asked him personally, “not today.” But after some time, Zagar found himself pulled into the story, and its primary setting in Philadelphia.

Hustle doesn’t break the mold, but it has an elevated sheen compared to other sports movies. Stanley has to travel to many different environments for his work and each one lives a scuff mark on your brain. When we meet Bo Cruz in his hometown, on his court, it is a great bit of scene setting for a snippet of a scene. You can tell that Zagar loves the game not just for the skill involved but the atmosphere too. He has the quietness of the combine, the anticipatory atmosphere of eyeing your competition at pickup games, and the tunnel vision of competition once you get locked in.

By no means am I comparing anything I have done to what the journey of an NBA draft prospect is. But one can recognize that Zagar along with writers Taylor Materne and Will Fetters, are keen on finding the smaller things in a grand, over-the-top, story. Just by the nature of life by life, Hustle simplifies the process that Bo Cruz and Sugar goes through, but the little moments make you buy in.

The rise to stardom for a young athlete with the aid of a determined, somewhat eccentric coach is not a totally unique principle. With that being said Zagar, and Sandler did it exceptionally well.

Say Zagar wants to direct more movies like this, and say Sandler wants to stay involved with him, perhaps in a producing role. What sport would be the best bet to fit the same vibe and success as Hustle? My first thought was soccer. Getting a player from a part of the world playing in the street and elevating them to be signed by a Premiere League team. Perhaps you can do the same with baseball, starting with Stickball in a culdesac. The issue with baseball is that you get signed and play AA ball, and that is not exciting. You’d need multiple movies about him getting signed, then working through the minors, then struggling in the majors before having a moment. Football I don’t think this works at all because there is so much exposure and it is only in the United States. Perhaps an interesting one could be hockey? I admit I am least educated on the recruitment of hockey players, but imagine a young man being found in Canada having to go up against maybe certain teams in junior championships to then get drafted? When you get drafted in the NHL you can make an impact pretty damn quick.

Regardless, I have rambled. Go watch Hustle.


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