The 94th Academy Awards were filled with top stories such as Beyonce performing, the chance for Lin-Manuel Miranda to join the EGOT club, Will Smith slapping Chris Rock and Apple Inc AAPL being the first streaming company to win the best picture Oscar.
Outside the big headlines, two NBA legends won Oscars for their production work on a documentary film about a pioneer for women’s basketball.
What Happened: Documentary film “The Queen of Basketball” took home the Oscar for best short documentary at the 2022 Academy Awards. The movie follows the story of Luisa Harris, the only woman to ever be drafted by an NBA team. Harris was pregnant at the time and never played in the NBA. Harris won a silver medal for Team USA in the 1976 Olympics and also won three straight NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships with Delta State University.
Harris averaged 25.9 points and 14.4 rebounds in her collegiate career and helped her team to a 109-6 record.
The award acceptance came prior to the main telecast on ABC.
“If there is anyone out there that still doubts whether there’s an audience for female athletes, let this Academy Award be the answer. Long live the queen,” Director Ben Proudfoot said.
The director also used his speech to highlight another top female basketball, pleading to President Joe Biden to help bring WNBA star Brittney Griner back home to the U.S. from Russia.
Producers on the film included Shaquille O’Neal and Steph Curry.
O’Neal referred to Harris as the GOAT (greatest of all time) and called her a role model for basketball players.
“When I saw (the film), it kind of made me cry,” O’Neal told Deadline. “I got to do whatever it takes to bring this story to the world.”
O’Neal celebrated the win on Twitter Inc TWTR but also wished that Harris, who passed away prior to the film's nomination, was alive to see the victory.
Other Athletes To Win: Outside of O’Neal and Curry, there have been four other winners of Academy Awards by former athletes in the four major sports.
Kobe Bryant: The first athlete to be nominated and to win an Oscar was NBA great Kobe Bryant. A poem written by Bryant in 2015 called “Dear Basketball” was adapted into an animated movie that won the 2018 Oscar for best animated short film.
“As basketball players, we’re really supposed to shut up and dribble. I’m glad we’re doing much more than that,” Bryant said in his acceptance speech.
The poem and movie are based on Bryant’s decision to retire from the NBA. Bryant said in interviews he always wanted to be a storyteller. The movie was animated and directed by Glen Keane, who was an animator at Walt Disney Co DIS working on movies like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast." Academy Award-winning composer John Williams created the score for the movie.
Kevin Durant: NBA star Durant was an executive producer on “Two Distant Strangers.” The film won the best live action short film at the 2021 Academy Awards. The movie starred rapper and actor Joey Bada$$ as a person stuck in a time loop and reliving a lethal encounter with a police officer. The film is available to stream on Netflix Inc NFLX.
Mike Conley: NBA player Mike Conley was also an executive producer on “Two Distant Strangers,” giving the 2021 Academy Awards two current NBA players among its winners.
“Guys in the locker room were giving me grief about it the other day, just like ‘You might win an Oscar before you win a Championship,’” Conley said. Conley admitted being a part of an Oscar-winning movie was not something he originally envisioned for himself.
Matthew A. Cherry: A standout at wide receiver at the University of Akron, Cherry went undrafted in the 2004 NFL Draft. Cherry had tryouts and was featured on practice squads for other teams but did not play a single NFL game.
Cherry left the NFL in 2007 to pursue a film career.
“I always was interested in film. I always knew when I got done playing sports I’d get into filmmaking,” Cherry said in an earlier interview.
Cherry won an Oscar in 2020 for the film “Hair Love.” The film was written, produced and directed by Cherry and won the prize for best animated short film.
Cherry dedicated his Oscar win to Bryant, who previously won in the same category and passed away a month before the 92nd Academy Awards.
“This award is dedicated to Kobe Bryant. May we all have a second act as great as his was.”
Who’s Next: While several athletes have tested the acting waters during their time playing sports or after, not many of them are often critically acclaimed or award-worthy.
NBA star LeBron James recently won an award for a movie he starred in, but it wasn’t an Oscar. James was the winner of a Razzie Award for worst actor for “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
James has been featured in several movies and maybe a more serious dramatic take could put him into the awards category.
Tom Brady unretired recently and will play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2022 NFL season. The quarterback is set to produce and be featured in a Paramount Global PARAPARAA movie about New England Patriots superfans. The movie could be well received by critics and features some top leading ladies as the stars.
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