Adam Sandler and Juancho Hernangómez guide us through NBA dynamics and human connections in the new Netflix movie

The film ‘Hustle,’ a Netflix production that talks and breathes basketball, has just been released. This movie uses the complex dynamics of NBA scouting to narrate something even more enigmatic than statistics, picks and performance: the countless facets of every human being.

Stanley Sugarman, played by an excellent Adam Sandler (notable basketball fan outside the sets), serves as a globetrotting scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. Out of shape and with a tragic basketball career behind him, this husband and father tries to achieve his dream of becoming an assistant coach for the Philly franchise. The climb, however, is stopped by the sudden death of the beloved longtime Chairman, Stanley is forced to face an obligatory professional setback and returns to Europe.

In the obscure Spanish suburbs Stanley accidentally meets Bo Cruz: an unknown diamond who is outside any basketball radar. This unlikely epiphany sparks a deep friendship that leads Stanley to bet everything, also his personal financials, on the potential NBA career of this 22-year-old stranger.

The actor who plays Cruz is not unknown; it’s Juancho Hernangómez, the stunning shooter who currently plays for the Utah Jazz. Juancho traces in ‘Hustle’ the footsteps of many colleagues who have gone before him on the big screen: one above all Ray Allen, Jesus Shuttlesworth in the magical ‘He Got Game,’ the hypnotic visual novel marked Spike Lee.

The Spanish player seems, beyond all expectations, comfortable in front of the cameras: a considerable outcome, especially considering his admissions, “I’m in love with basketball, I just want to play basketball. This opportunity came about because of boredom. During the lockdown I was at home with my sister and my brother (Willy, Pelicans center), we put the cell phone on the wall and I tried to follow the script, to improvise. This was my casting. I never dreamed of being an actor, but the production saw something in that video and contacted me….”

Amid hazy pasts, outbursts, Rocky Balboa references and goals to reach, Stanley and Bo try to make their way through the tangled NBA undergrowth, discovering disappointment after disappointment, practice after practice, something more about themselves and forging an intimate connection, in which basketball becomes a tool for plumbing the depths and weaknesses of each other.

The cross-cutting reflections embedded in this movie produced (also) by LeBron James and shot by Jeremiah Zagar are grafted into an incredibly detailed basketball texture. The full access to the real Sixers facilities, the Draft Combine, the references to European teams (Real Madrid, Alba Berlin, Olympiacos to name a few…), the familiar faces of managers/coaches/reporters and, above all, the presence of an endless mosaic of NBA stars are all signs of a tasty and satisfying environmental authenticity.

The names’ list is enough to understand how much NBA has been gathered in this film: Moe Wagner, Boban Marjanovic, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Kyle Lowry, Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Jordan Clarkson, Aaron Gordon, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Willy Hernangómez, Anthony Edwards and the legendary Kenny Smith, Julius Erving, Doc Rivers, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O’Neal… We’re talking about a basketball apotheosis that never gives the impression of corrupting the movie, but instead outlines a credible habitat in which Bo Cruz’s improbable exploits can take shape.

Overall, ‘Hustle’ turns out to be an enjoyable production, both for the quality of writing, with Taylor Materne’s screenplay capable of touching high emotional chords, and for the careful filmic analysis of the NBA universe: a non-documentary study which takes us in the glittering, exclusive and very tough elite of world basketball, and makes us discover something more about its laws, its dynamics and its protagonists.

PH & VIDEO Netflix
Text by Gianmarco Pacione