Kyrie Irving talks ‘Uncle Drew,’ NBA super teams and not being afraid to fail

Basketball fans know Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving can dribble. The real question is: Can he act?

The five-time NBA All-Star, first round draft pick and winner (with the Cleveland Cavaliers) of the 2016 NBA Finals, is about to flex a different set of skills for his legion of fans as he brings his Uncle Drew character to the big screen.

The film is a spinoff of a Pepsi Max ad that aired in 2012 with Irving donning old-man makeup to play the hoops-shooting senior citizen, Uncle Drew. The septuagenarian, who used to be a legend on the court, dispenses wisdom and schools the younger denizens at the playground.

Over the past five years, Irving has taken the character and spun him off into a series of YouTube shorts, which he also wrote and directed.

As he racked up real-life accolades on the court, Irving didn’t think that the character was one that could be transplanted onto the big screen.

“It caught me off guard,” Irving tells the Sun down the line from Boston. “Honestly, I was wondering how they would do that.”

But when he got a pitch that would see the character join forces with other basketball luminaries — including Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie — and comedians Tiffany Haddish, Get Out scene stealer LilRel Howery and Nick Kroll for a story that would deliver laughs, “life lessons” and advice (“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”, he couldn’t resist).

So during his summer off last year, Irving — who got the call that he was being traded from Cleveland to Boston while on set — joined the ranks of other NBA athletes-turned-actors for a story that follows Dax (Howery) as he takes on his longtime rival (Kroll) in the Rucker Classic streetball tournament in Harlem, with a team made up of Drew and his old basketball squad (O’Neal, Webber, Miller, Robinson and Leslie).

As he recuperates from season-ending knee surgery (“I’m just trying to get back into the swing of things and prepare for September,” he says), Irving reflected on the enduring appeal of Uncle Drew and the rise of super teams in the NBA.

First off, really quickly, I need to mention: that buzzer beater you hit against the Raptors on Jan. 26, 2013. That was probably one of the most heartbreaking games I’ve ever been to.

Mark, I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry (laughs).

A lot of sports guys get into movies. Was acting something that was on your bucket list?

To be part of a project that was bigger than me and see it come together was cool. I had great partners in this and it was great to see it transform and evolve from YouTube shorts to commercials to now having a full-blown movie with an incredible cast. I’m just nothing but appreciative for the opportunity to be on this stage.

What did you think when you heard they wanted to put Uncle Drew on the big screen?

Our writer (Jay Longino) did a great job in making sure we stayed authentic in our storytelling and gave the film some emotionally-driven scenes to make sure that the arc of the movie was understood and there were life lessons. It’s really oriented around friends and family, and it’s been great to see it evolve into this.

Why do you think that character has been such a hit for you?

It’s an alternative personality. On one hand, I’m a 26-year-old still-evolving man, and on the other here’s this older man who takes on some of that, but he’s doing it with a lot of conviction, grace and wisdom from living life. The reception Uncle Drew has gotten over time has been great to be a part of.

What was it like to work with pro ballers like Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie?

I liked picking their brain about how the game has changed from their time to my time now. They offer not only knowledge about the game of basketball, but the game of life as well.

From L to R Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Kyrie Irving on the set of Uncle Drew.

Something Drew says multiple times in the movie is, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ How have you dealt with adversity in your own life?

I believe in the art of preparation for the unknown as best you can. You’re going to have to deal with a lot in life and being able to pick yourself back up again and really truck on is important. Along with that, you need to be aware of what it took to get to the place you’re in. Life is tough. I don’t just limit that to basketball. Missing shots is going to happen. I would love to play well in front of millions of people every night, but it just won’t happen. That strive for perfection is very maniacal and it can be lonely. So the time where you’re preparing, that’s your connection to yourself and also being able to deal with things if you fail.

What’s your take on super teams in the NBA. It’s been Golden State and Cleveland in the Finals the past four years. Is that bad for the game?

It just sparks the competitive nature of our business. That’s all it really does. I don’t see it as anything more than that. I know we’re in a league where there are a lot of great players and some of them are on the same team at the same time. But you know, any team can be beaten on any given night. I think that you want to form a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood and keep a team together for a long period of time to try and win a championship. So I don’t have a problem with them. I don’t even call them, ‘super teams.’ They are great players on one team and it’s my job to try and beat them.

I know if you were stuck on a desert island you’d probably bring a basketball, but what movies would be in your backpack?

Oh man, I have so many movies that I love. I’d probably bring Rent, He Got Game and Whiplash.

Uncle Drew opens Friday, June 29.

Twitter: @markhdaniell

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies