The Philadelphia 76ers are still searching for their first championship since 1983, but that didn’t stop Hollywood from setting a movie in the team’s gym. The Sixers take center stage in Adam Sandler’s new hit movie “Hustle” which debuted earlier this week on Netflix. It’s a nostalgic love poem to all things Philly, with enough Rocky references to support a sequel.
Sandler plays lead character Stanley Sugarman, a down-on-his-luck scout for the Sixers who becomes infatuated with an NBA prospect he discovers during a recruiting trip to Spain. We won’t spoil the ending, but the plot is as winding as those grueling hills out in Manayunk.
IIIAnd Philly-born director Jeremiah Zagar made sure to include gratuitous amounts of local porn, from Cheesesteak Vegas to Smith Playground to the Schuylkill River Trail. Everything’s in there, including a favorite Philly sports talker.
There is even a scene where an incensed Sugarman gets word that the Sixers are thinking about trading Joel Embiid. Wait, what? Yes, they want to acquire the No. 1 pick from the Sacramento Kings. Says Sugarman: “That idiot’s talking about trading Embiid? Are you kidding me?”
Perhaps the greatest Easter egg in the movie involves unlikeable Sixers co-owner Vince Merrick (played by Ben Foster). He’s shown wearing popped collars in multiple scenes, a not-so-subtle dig at disgraced executive Bryan Colangelo. He was the general manager after Sam Hinkie, the guy who went down in flames following the Burner-Gate scandal. Sixers fans were quick to acknowledge the Colangelo reference while chuckling out loud on social media.
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Joel Embiid Mysteriously Absent in ‘Hustle’
There are multiple references to Joel Embiid in “Hustle” but the All-Star big man is mysteriously absent from the movie. His only appearance comes in the closing scene in B-roll basketball footage of a game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. Ironically, the Rocky Balboa character — Bo Cruz, played by Juancho Hernangómez (Utah Jazz) — signs with Boston after the Sixers pass on him. Embiid wins a jump ball at center court. And that’s the only time we see him.
According to John Bolaris, Embiid turned down a part in the flick since they filmed it during basketball season. The MVP runner-up saw it as a distraction and politely declined Sandler’s invitation. Meanwhile, several other Sixers players gladly signed up for the movie: Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey, along with head coach Doc Rivers. There are also cameos from ex-Sixers Seth Curry and Boban Marjanović, plus Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, and Allen Iverson.
Sandler Wisely Avoids Ben Simmons
Simmons filmed the majority of “Hustle” when Ben Simmons was still on the Sixers’ roster. He could have chosen to shoot scenes with the disgruntled star, or make light of the whole ridiculous situation.
Instead, there is absolutely no mention of Simmons as the script sticks to a happy, feel-good ending. Screen Rant’s Cooper Hood shared the following opinion on the Simmons’ decision:
Philadelphia 76ers fans watching the movie would once again be reminded of the drama that ensued around their former star, while any potential jokes about Stanley Sugerman’s assessment of Ben Simmons for the draft could have been in bad taste. Ultimately, Hustle made the right call in not including a Ben Simmons cameo or reference and letting this fictional world avoid the drama.
And Sandler masterfully captured the essence of Philly sports in doing what he did. Don’t believe us? Well, the New York Times called it “maybe the best basketball movie ever made.” It’s good, maybe not that good … but “Hustle” definitely demands a spot in the movie rotation.