Most successful professional athletes reached their high stature by offering a number of talents on the court or field; having a number of extra abilities or tricks of their sleeves in order to confuse or surprise their competition. While no one will argue that most successful professional athletes would make a case for an Oscar nod, that doesn’t mean they haven’t tried. Many athletes have appeared in films, or on television shows, either as themselves or playing — or attempting to play — a character.
We take a look at some of the best appearances by athletes who have had a cameo on film or television:
5. Wayne Gretzky, The Young and The Restless (1981)
Few would look at “The Great One” and think he looks like a typical cinematic mobster. When Wayne Gretzky appeared in a 1981 episode of The Young and The Restless, as a mafia thug named Wayne, from “The Edmonton Operation”, it was suggested that whoever made the cameo suggestion had no idea who Gretzky was, or what he looked like.
4. Cam Neely, Dumb and Dumber (1994)
The best years of Cam Neely’s NHL career occurred from 1987 to 1991. Three years later, the 6″1 right wing appeared briefly in the cult-classic comedy Dumb and Dumber. Playing a country trucker by the name of Sea Bass, Jeff Daniels’ character has the poor misfortune of tossing a salt-shaker over his shoulder in a diner, hitting Sea Bass a couple of tables over. The diner falls completely silent as Neely approaches slowly approaches Daniels, and ultimately, spits a mouthful of chewing tobacco in his burger. Neely is one of the exceptions to the previously-stated rule of athletes on screen, as he made the character completely believable, and made the situation brilliantly uncomfortable.
3. Brett Favre, There’s Something About Mary (1998)
In There’s Something About Mary, the title character, played by Cameron Diaz, had been involved in a romantic relationship with everyone! “Everyone” apparently included NFL legend Brett Favre, who, in the final 10 minutes of the film, appeared as himself out of nowhere to declare his love for Mary. While Favre may have the on-screen talent and excitement level that perhaps only Zack Greinke may lack more of, no one could have guessed that the former love interest of Mary would be none other than the former Super Bowl champion.
2. Wilt Chamberlain, Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Even the greatest big-man ever to play in the NBA wasn’t enough to take on Arnold in the 1980’s. In 1984’s Conan the Destroyer, the sequel to Conan the Barbarian (1982), the great Wilt Chamberlain played the role of Bombaata, a warrior villain who gets in Conan’s way in his quest to save a princess. Swinging some kind of hammer, or mace, Chamberlain takes some big swings at Arnold, who, after a brief duel, stabs the single-game point record holder and two-time NBA champion.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Airplane! (1980)
Sports fans will remember the 7″2 Kareem as “Cap”, the 20-year NBA veteran who five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, claimed six NBA MVP honors, was named to 19 NBA All-Star teams, and had his number retired at UCLA. However, in 1980, Abdul-Jabbar appeared in the 1980 comedy, Airplane!, starring Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty. In the film, Abdul-Jabbar plays the combination roles of pilot Roger Murdock, and himself. When a boy approaches him on the plane about his true identity, Kareem holds character as Murdock, until the boy brings up his father’s claims that Abdul-Jabbar does not “work hard on defense”. Kareem loses it. “The hell I don’t”, he replies. Later in the film, an unconscious Abdul-Jabbar is dragged from the cockpit, wearing Lakers shorts.