This is a glorious morning for basketball fans. With the All-Star Game festivities set to start in mere hours, we are on the cusp of the moment of the season. I speak not of the Rookie Game, or even the silly NBA list that TNT will show tomorrow afternoon instead of HORSE, but the Celebrity Game, set to air on ESPN at 4 PM local time in Los Angeles. Yes, it’s the only event from the weekend to air live on ESPN, likely because the Worldwide Leader blew their full budget getting this competition. And who could blame them?
This year’s Celeb Game is perhaps the most interesting in history, and not just because it’s taking place in the home of the Dream Factory. With best-selling author Bill Simmons and third-place talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel acting as “general managers,” we could see some wild twists and turns. It’s unclear exactly what these roles mean or how they’ll function, but my guess is that Simmons will offer Kimmel 40 trades by the end of the first quarter and peer-pressure his friend into accepting them by endlessly repeating the phrase “who blinks first?”
Still, this game is about the athletes, not backdoor shenanigans. The league didn’t reveal the full list of this year’s participants, but Simmons and Kimmel thankfully took to the former’s podcast to preview their respective rosters. After the jump, check out BDL’s intensive commentary and scouting reports on the game of the year.
General Manager Bill Simmons (“The Book of Basketball,” “The Sports Guy” cartoon): Like many great GMs, Simmons is an expert in body language. He knows how to read a player’s face, stride, and posture to find out if they have what it takes to “win the big one” and understand “the secret of basketball.” He was also disappointed to learn he could not put Alton from “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” on his squad.
Michael Rapaport (“True Romance,” “Deep Blue Sea”): Last year’s MVP takes the contest more seriously than anyone, which makes him the consensus top pick in Celeb Game fantasy leagues. Best known as a defensive specialist, Rapaport knows how to get physical and will try as hard as possible to get Justin Bieber out of his comfort zone. Rapaport’s intense approach can likely be accounted for by the fact that no one has ever taken him seriously in any movie.
Arne Duncan (U.S. Secretary of Education): It is unclear if Duncan is actually playing in the game — Simmons and Kimmel read the name and initially decided it was supposed to be Armie Hammer, the actor who portrayed the Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network.” For now, let’s assume it was not a typo, since Duncan played professional basketball overseas and in America before getting into the realm of education. Outside of his on-court talents, though, he’s sure to teach everyone a valuable lesson about the importance of hard work and friendship. Rapaport’s life will be changed forever.
Joel McHale (“Community,” “The Soup”): McHale is tall for a normal person and endlessly hilarious, kind of like Shaquille O’Neal(notes) if he were white, bearded, and not a professional basketball player. While McHale played football in high school and stands out as a pretty decent athlete, his real edge will come in making fun of opponent Rob Kardashian’s role in “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
Scottie Pippen (a very good former basketball player): Scottie Pippen has six championships, but he has never appeared in a film or TV show as anyone but himself. Expect him to play a very small role in this game.
Chris Mullin (flat-top enthusiast): A veteran of the Celeb Game and MTV “Rock n’ Jock” competitions, Mullin excels at hitting 20-point shots in the final minutes of quarters.
Mitch Richmond (underrated ’90s All-Star scorer): Unlike Pippen, Richmond once portrayed a basketball player named Dwight Roshman in a 1997 episode of the UPN action series “The Sentinel,” so he should be Team Simmons’s second-best NBA legend. (Incidentally, Tim Hardaway will watch the game while eating Cheetos on his couch in a bathrobe, wondering why the NBA didn’t want him to recreate Run-TMC with Mullin and Richmond.)
Tamika Catchings (WNBA star): Simmons neglected to mention Catchings on the podcast despite the fact that she’s considered the best defender in the league. I’ll let you guess why.
Coach Bill Walton (UCLA legend, kind soul): Walton speaks in hyperbole and metaphor, but it’s exactly that kind of craziness that’s needed for a team to succeed in a pressure-filled environment. What a long strange trip this game will be!
Coach Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld,” “Bob Patterson”): Alexander will spend the entire game fielding questions from Richmond on whether or not Jerry Seinfeld really eats that much cereal.
General Manager Jimmy Kimmel (“Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Man Show”): In the Sports Guy podcast, Kimmel informed the listening audience that he had a part cut from the Bow Wow vehicle “Like Mike,” a film notable for casting “Jerry Maguire” superkid Jonathan Lipnicki as a tween orphan named “Murph.” It’s unlikely that Kimmel has been able to visit a basketball court since, so the Celeb Game could represent a moment of satisfying redemption. Keep an eye on his emotional state throughout the game.
Justin Bieber (“Never Say Never,” chaste dreams of young girls): Look, I know you hate Bieber because he’s young, a little dumb, and rich beyond his talent should suggest. But at heart, he’s a kid having the time of his life and singing the best songs his corporate handlers can buy. If you’re going to hate anyone, hate the system that created him. On the court, he’s a competitive athlete just like anyone else. Also, he is Canadian and likely patterns his game after that of Bill Wennington.
Zachary Levi (“Chuck,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”): Levi is most famous for his role as Chuck Bartowski, a devilishly handsome nerd with spy secrets implanted in his brain. Due to his poor grasp of reality, Bieber will ask him to “flash” and win the basketball game for Team Kimmel. Instead, Levi will tell him how Xfinity has more HD than anyone!
Rob Kardashian (“Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” trust funds): As noted above, Kardashian is likely to be a target of extreme verbal abuse from Joel McHale. If Lamar Odom’s(notes) brother-in-law wants to be a champion, he will have to become a man and stand up to his bully. Of course, as one of E!’s top earners, Kardashian can probably get McHale fired from his job at “The Soup” just like his upbringing taught him.
(Lil) Romeo (“Honey,” “Max Keeble’s Big Move”): Once upon a time two years ago, Romeo Miller, the son of hip-hop mogul Master P, was a point guard for the USC Trojans. He isn’t anymore, though, in part because Miller probably got a scholarship because he’s very good friends with DeMar DeRozan(notes) and not for his own basketball talent. Still, with a knowledge of the worlds of sport and art, Miller should play a big part in this game. Here’s hoping he makes ‘em say “unnnnnnhhhhhh!!!” Na na na na.
A.C. Green (former virgin): Green is married and has now had sex, so there is no longer anything to mock him for.
Rick Fox (“One Tree Hill,” “He Got Game”): The boyfriend of actress Eliza Dushku is arguably Hollywood’s finest actor when it comes to portraying basketball. Over more than a decade on the screen, Fox has trained to become a better basketball player to make his films and shows appear as real as possible — take one look at his work and you’ll think he played in the NBA for years. It’s unclear how those talents will translate to a game where each play isn’t scripted in advance, but I bet Fox can make it work.
Jalen Rose (Fab Five): Like Pippen, has never played anyone other than himself on the screen. Next!
Swin Cash (ESPN analyst, WNBA star): While Cash has as big a media profile as most any female basketball star, Cash has only appeared in one film, “Bring It On: All or Nothing,” and she played herself. But that movie is really good, so I’m sure she’ll be fine. Would you criticize John Malkovich for playing himself in “Being John Malkovich”?
Coach Magic Johnson (Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video, “The Magic Hour”): In addition to hosting a long-running hit talk show, Johnson owns a chain of movie theaters. With Magic at the helm of Team Kimmel, it’s sure to be “showtime” in Los Angeles. (Talk about a fresh pun!)
Coach Ty Burrell (“Modern Family,” “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus”): As the absent-minded father on “Modern Family,” Burrell turns endearing stupidity into an artform. In this game, he will mostly be counted on to say funny things during awkward interviews with Stuart Scott.
Continue reading here: At last, the Celebrity Game tips off tonight