Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James has had a film in the works for eight years, even before he starred in the 2015 comedy “Trainwreck,” but his career moves have derailed the project twice already.
Every so often, we’re reminded of the script’s existence — most notably when Kevin Hart signed on in 2013 and Mark Wahlberg joined the cast in 2016 — and ESPN brought it back into the ether on Monday with Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst’s look back on 13 unheralded moments of LeBron’s career.
The original screenplay had a “Hangover” feel, following five men who attended a fantasy basketball camp in Las Vegas, as LeBron, playing himself, got entangled in their lives. Comedy, of course, ensued.
How “The Decision” derailed “Fantasy Basketball Camp”
The first iteration of the film came in 2009, when it was tentatively titled, “Fantasy Basketball Camp.” The creators sought James after seeing him star in a series of Nike advertisements about The LeBrons.
Brian Grazer, the Academy Award-winning producer of “A Beautiful Mind,” was set to lead the project.
“I felt that beyond being one of the world’s great superstar athletes, here was someone so relaxed and comfortable with himself that he would have the capability to be that way onscreen,” Grazer told Variety at the time. “Later, when I watched him host ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and saw his advertising work, it was clear he can do this.”
The original screenplay was written by Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, the team that penned comedies such as “Splash,” “Parenthood,” “City Slickers” and “A League of Their Own.” Their last film credits were for “Fever Pitch,” a much-maligned comedy with the Red Sox serving as the backdrop of a Jimmy Fallon vehicle, and “Tooth Fairy,” which starred The Rock as a minor-league hockey player.
By early 2010, Peter Steinfeld — the writer Of “Analyze That” and “21” — was brought on to rewrite the script, and Malcolm D. Lee was selected to direct the film. Lee was coming off this string of movies: “The Best Man,” “Undercover Brother,” “Roll Bounce,” “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins” and “Soul Men.” Lee “spent time” with LeBron during that season, and filming was supposed to begin later in the year.
When LeBron’s image took a hit following “The Decision” that summer, production was delayed for a year — and then halted altogether when the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals.
How going home derailed the project
The project was resurrected in 2013, when James was working on back-to-back titles and Hart signed on to play LeBron’s brother. The fantasy basketball camp aspect of the film was seemingly scrapped, and instead it figured to be somewhat of a “Twins” sequel called “Ballers,” with Miami now the setting.
(This is different from the HBO show “Ballers,” also set in Miami, that began in 2015.)
Hart and writing partners Joey Wells, Chris Spencer and Harry Ratchford were punching up the script. Filming was scheduled for 2014, only James left Miami for Cleveland, putting the project on hold again.
Where “Ballers” stands now
Soon after James starred in “Trainwreck,” the film found its third life when Mark Wahlberg (a producer on HBO’s “Ballers”) revealed on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in 2016 that he was joining a film project starring LeBron called “Ballers” about a fantasy basketball camp. It’s all very confusing.
“He and I are talking about doing a movie together,” Wahlberg told Fallon. “It’s actually a great idea. It’s based around the fantasy league, so these guys get to go to one of these fantasy camps, and me and LeBron have a situation.”
Doug Ellin, who created “Entourage” with Wahlberg, was rewriting the script for a fourth time.
We haven’t heard anything about it since — until ESPN recently asked James if it’ll ever get made:
“That’s still the hope and the idea is still out there,” James said. “Kev [Hart] is, well, you can’t stop him. The route that he’s on right now, he has no time to be stopping and waiting. He’s got to stay on that wave. So, you know, we’ll see what happens.”
It’s probably best not to schedule filming for the summer of 2018, because LeBron’s a free agent again.
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