Entertainment and athletics and have always been intertwined. Sometimes they even cross-over like WWE, but for the most part actors have always envied athletes and their amazing abilities (Jack Nicholson or Spike Lee anyone?). During this year's NBA finals, we saw singer/performer Usher Raymond IV make a few headlines after he visited the Warriors locker room after a win. Though Usher is a minority owner of the Cavaliers, but so is Gary Gilbert (exactly). Gary Gilbert (no relation to majority team owner Dan Gilbert) is a movie producer who produced the movie Garden State.
Usher’s "athlete envy" could be due to fantasies of being a professional athlete, but there have been some very legit actors and entertainers who actually could have become professionals. Some have even played with or against players and teammates who have gone on to sign professional contracts, while others have set high school records and achieved notoriety in college. You might recognize some of the big names on the list and might just be surprised by their accomplishments. When directors and producers cast for sports movies, there’s no need for stunt doubles for these actors. They can do their own sports stunts. And it doesn’t matter how many Oscars, Golden Globes or Grammy’s an actor or singer earns, they will always be an athlete at heart. Like the saying goes: "once an athlete, always an athlete.”
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16 Jon Stewart
The Daily Show host is known for his comedic personality and satirical views but few know that he was actually quite a stud in college. Jon Stewart was good enough to play soccer at prestigious WIlliam and Mary in the early 1980s. Stewart, then known as Leibowitz, began playing on the junior varsity (JV) team, then made the men’s varsity team as a sophomore. The Comedy Central funny man was no bench warmer during his three year career as a varsity player. No. He scored 10 goals throughout his career which was highlighted by a game-winning goal in a match against UConn (Connecticut) which secured his team's spot in the 1983 NCAA tournament. Late night television has a plethora of really funny people but Stewart will always have bragging rights of having been a college athlete which is something that Stephen Colbert or Conan O'Brien can’t say about themselves. Jon Stewart just got that much cooler.
Rappers are famous for boasting about accomplishments they’ve never achieved. Tauheed Epps, aka, 2-Chains, can actually boast about being a star basketball player. 2-Chainz played high school ball for North Clayton High School in College Park, GA. His grades and game was good enough to play at Alabama State University. He even played with NBA player Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics). Apparently he’s the real-deal. Whenever you get a write up in b-ball street/pro magazine SLAM, your game must be real. Mr. Epps must have had stardom written all over him as a teen having attended high school with R&B singer Monica. At 6’5” with a reported 4.0 GPA, he most certainly could have become a star in college and possibly drafted to the pros. Lots of rappers indulge their fantasies of dunking on Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, but 2-Chainz is probably the only one who actually would have any chance to dunk on those guys.
14 The Game
Before Jayceon Terrell became famous through Dr. Dre and Aftermath Records, he had dreams of one day becoming a basketball player. The rapper better known as The Game, grew up in Compton California and reportedly played point guard for Compton High. He even supposedly earned a basketball scholarship to play at Washington State University but very little can be found to confirm this. Either way, that didn’t stop him from naming himself "The Game” to insinuate that he does indeed, have game. He even became owner of the Inglewood Cobras, a California-based ABA basketball team in 2005 allowing him to lace them up for all the world to see. Sadly, the Cobras folded after just five games, forcing Taylor to give up his pro-hoop dream for good. He’s still around the game however, playing in the Drew League- a pro-am summer league that boasts the likes of Houston Rockets pro James Harden.
13 John Cusack
It’s time to shake things up a bit. This American actor, screenwriter, and producer might be remembered by most Gen-Xers as the boombox holding Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, but few know that this Hollywood triple-threat is really a threat of his own. Cusack’s love of sports is nothing knew as he can be seen attending Chicago Bears football games and Cubs and White Sox baseball games (he’s impartial to both). He also happens to be good friends with former Blackhawks hockey legend Chris Chelios. But that’s not what makes him an actor who can hang with the pros. Cusack is actually trained in Ukidokan Kickboxing and holds a sixth-level black belt. He started training over 20 years ago with former World Kickboxing Champion Benny Urquidez for his role in Say Anything, and he never stopped. That could mean once the movie roles dry up, Cusack could always consider MMA. I wonder if he and Dana White are Facebook friends?
12 Ed O’Neill
America’s favorite husband, Al Bundy was played by Ed O’Neill for 11 seasons. That was before his current role as Jay Pritchett in Modern Family which has earned him three Primetime Emmy Award nominations. Not bad for someone who almost made it onto the Pittsburgh Steelers. O’Neill was apparently a football-stud coming out of Ursuline High School where it was rumored that he scored four touchdowns in one game . He was good enough to earn himself a football scholarship to Ohio University. He later transferred to Youngstown State where he was a defensive lineman. In 1969, he signed onto the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent but was later cut from the team. He then turned his attention to acting and the rest is, as you know, history. His failure to turn pro was often written in the Married With Children script as he recalled his “glory days.”
11 Forest Whitaker
The charismatic and loveable Forest Whitaker has been around for some time now. He’s an award-winning actor who has played many notable characters (Idi Amin; Last King of Scotland, Charlie Parker in Bird) and has a name that is recognizable in Hollywood. But apparently acting wasn’t his only talent. In high school and college, he played football and was studying to become a classical tenor. Yes, a football playing tenor. He earned himself an athletic scholarship to Cal State Polytechnic University but hurt his back and switched his focus to music which later became acting. Though he might not have any notable athletic accomplishment, based on what’s he’s been able to accomplish with his other talents (scholarships in music and drama) there’s little doubt that had he focused solely on football he would have been an outstanding player. And let’s not forget that his very first acting gig was as a football player in Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
10 George Clooney
Who knew that Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World was almost a Cincinnati Red during their championship seasons? That’s right, Mr. ER, was almost a Cincinnati Red. Clooney played baseball and basketball at Augusta High School but really wanted to play football. Since his school didn’t have a football team, Clooney chose the two options, and at 16 took part in a tryout camp for the Reds. The trouble is that it wasn’t just any Reds team, it was the World Champion Reds. They had just won the 1977 World Series so we’re taking Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and the rest of the Big Red Machine as they were known back then. Alas, Clooney wasn’t offered a contract and turned his focus to acting. Now that we know about his Major League aspirations, we’re left only to dream about a lineup that could have featured Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and….George Clooney. Yes, only in our dreams.
9 Jason Sudeikis
Jason Sudeikis is one of the funniest guys to emerge from Saturday Night Live and onto the big-screen. Having made a handful of TV guest appearances and breakout roles in Horrible Bosses and We’re The Millers, we can’t imagine him as anything but funny. But this funny man had serious game at one time. Sudeikis loved basketball and used to purchase Pistol Pete videos for tips on the court. They must have worked because Sudeikis shared the court with future basketball stars like the Rush brothers (Brandon and Kareem) while former NBA player, Anthony Peeler worked his team out on occasion (Peeler’s dad was a coach). But his proudest moment was going head-to-head with former NBA player and current World Champion coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sudeikis used to lean on that moment when he needed a boost of confidence. Now that he’s shot scenes with Lebron James (SNL) and played with Scottie Pippen (celebrity game), I’d say he scored the next best thing to going pro.
8 Tony Danza
The Italian stud got his big break by starring in two memorable TV shows during the '70s and '80s- Taxi and Who’s the Boss? But his road to Hollywood wasn’t paved by casting calls and auditions. Tony Danza found his way to the small and big screen through the gym. He was formerly a boxer who trained at the famed Gleason’s Gym in New York and fought in the famous amateur boxing tournament, the Golden Gloves in 1975. Known as either “Dangerous Danza” or “Tough” Tony Danza, depending on the scorecard, he forged his future with a little bit of luck and a knockout punch. He was discovered when one day TV producer Stuart Sheslow walked into the gym looking for a boxer for a show he was producing for NBC. He later caught the attention of director Walter Hill and producers Larry Gordon and Joel Silver. Everyone loved him and he ended up getting the role on Taxi.
7 Nick Nolte
The Prince of Tides actor was once a very serious football player. Nick Nolte actually has football in his genes because his dad was a three-letter star at Iowa State University and was rumored to have played semi-pro football. Nolte had an up-and-down career playing football, basketball, and baseball throughout his four-school college career. He earned himself a football scholarship at Arizona State University in Tempe, but bad grades kept him off the field. His rumoured drinking problem probably didn’t help either which forced him to make the decision to focus solely on acting. He would later model in the early '60s and '70s before his acting career eventually began to take off. He did get to play a football player accused of murder in Who Framed Billy the Kid?
5 Jamie Foxx
Sometimes our dreams aren’t our greatest aspirations and when things don’t work out the way we think they should, there’s usually a very good reason for it. Just ask Eric Marlon Bishop, better known to the world as Jamie Foxx. Foxx wanted to play for the Dallas Cowboys someday while growing up and considering the fact that he was the first player in his school's history to pass for 1,000 yards, he certainly could have. While attending Terrell High School, Foxx played basketball and excelled at football where he was the star quarterback. He was also a very talented singer and started playing the piano at the age of five. He eventually gave up his gridiron dreams for his other talents which eventually led him to joining the cast of In Living Color which also featured Jim Carrey. Foxx got to relive his glory days of football however, when he starred in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday.
4 Elsa Hosk
While we’re covering celebrities who could have gone pro, Elsa Hosk is one who actually did go pro- sort of. The 5’9 ½ Victoria Secret model actually played professional basketball in her native Sweden for two years before becoming a model. She played in the Swedish Women’s Basketball League where they practiced eight times a week. Unfortunately for Hosk, basketball in Sweden was nothing like the WNBA here and she gave up her hoop dreams for the bright lights of New York. There she became a full-time model and worked with notable photographer Ellen von Unwerth in Guess campaigns early in her career. This help lannd her the gig with Victoria’s Secret. Though this “Angel” isn’t driving hard to the rim for an “and-one” anymore, somehow we aren’t too mad at her for that.
3 Gerald Ford
After spending time in the limelight, most famous people like to reflect on their accomplishments. Some humans have gone onto accomplish many great things in life, but few have done what Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. has been able to accomplish. He was the 38th President of the United States and served in the Navy where he received many honors and medals for his duty. But it all started when young Ford was a star athlete and captain of his high school football team. After receiving many offers from several recruiters, he settled on the University of Michigan where he played center, linebacker, and long snapper. His Wolverine teams went undefeated twice and captured national titles in 1932 and 1933. He even got to play against the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field as part of a Chicago College All-Star Game. Ford eventually turned down offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers to focus on law school. Not a bad resume at all I might add.
2 Kenny Mayne
We all know the face, and the voice, but few know the athlete behind the man. ESPN’s longtime anchor Kenny Mayne, played quarterback for the UNLV Runnin Rebels after being a JuCo (junior college) All-American at Wenatchee (WA) Valley College. He had to play backup because the Rebels already had a solid quarterback named Randall Cunningham who went on to star with the Eagles in the NFL. After his college career was over, he was signed by the Seattle Seahawks. But after being offered a three year contract worth $45,000 a year, he was unable to pass the physical and had to settle for $10 to buy a meal on his way home. Mayne shared the inside story about the end of his football career in an ESPN.com article titled, “Kenny Mayne’s Big Break.” Though he never got to play in the NFL, he’s probably the only anchor who can say he threw a pass to a future Hall of Famer when he threw to Steve Largent in camp.
1 George H.W. Bush
While Ford and Ronald Reagan are just a few former presidents with football bragging rights, George H.W. Bush owns the baseball rights. Our 41st President of the United States was quite the athlete at Yale where he led the Bulldogs to two College World Series. He was the team’s first baseman and captain and even met baseball legend Babe Ruth, before a game his senior year. Based on this family’s lineage and legacy, there was little chance that Papa Bush was going to play baseball for a living and his political aspirations (and ties) took over and swept him into the world of politics. We all know how that turned out. His son, former president George W. Bush is a well known avid fan of baseball and was part-owner of the Texas Rangers through an investment group. The Bushes certainly bring back the old tradition of baseball being as American as apple pie.
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