“Uncle Drew,” which debuts June 29, was shot in Atlanta during the time that Irving made his trade demand to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a chaotic time for Irving, but he was able to concentrate on his Uncle Drew role, and during his breaks, he was desperate to find pickup games in Atlanta. “In the summer time, trying to gain as much ground as I can to be ahead of the curve going back into the season,” he said. “It really just turned into an opportunity when my agent presented it. When I had that time, I had to kind of figure out how to be an actor as well as being a professional basketball player and balance the two, which is something I’ve never done before.”
And in the me-first world of professional sports in which athletes use social media to promote themselves, rap albums, products they endorse, etc., Irving is hoping “Uncle Drew” can allow fans a window into his complicated but brilliant psyche. “I think the accessibility from the outside view will probably seem as though it’s a little more,” he said. “Internally, where I am in my profession and where it’s come with has been a lot, it’s been a true adjustment for me because as a kid you want it but when you get it, this is it. This is what everybody kind of is so crazy about. When I have a great chance to be authentic, being in front of people and showcase some of the talents that I’ve had for a while, and I’m not saying I’m the best actor but I’ve always wanted to act, always wanted to be a creator and influencer. But for me, I always wanted to necessarily not put my name on it. I’ve always had that attitude since I was kid.
With his basketball life in utter upheaval, Irving also put his personal life into upheaval in the service of Hollywood, waking up daily before sunrise, as early as 4 a.m., to get ready for his daily old-man makeover and the 14 hours of filming that followed. It was after reporting to the set for a day’s work in the final week of August that Irving finally got the call. The Cavs had worked out a deal. Irving would be heading for Boston. “It just happened to be shooting during one of the craziest summers of my life,” Irving said on Friday, sitting in a conference room at the Hotel Bel-Air in LA to open All-Star weekend.
For Irving, it was a challenge. He obviously knew the importance of what was happening in his NBA life, but he did not want to let all that uncertainty bleed into the transformation of Uncle Drew into a movie star. “I tried my best not to let it mix,” Irving said. “As much as I could, but inevitably it did. I was unsure of when actually, or if actually the trade was going to happen, so it actually happened on set. You can only imagine what that reaction was to find out I had been traded, on set. I left for about five minutes, then I came back and started acting my scenes again. “That is a full-blown life right there, being a professional basketball player and acting in the summer.”
“I am just channeling a lot of guys who have come before me,” Kyrie Irving said. “Listening to, like, Bill Russell talk and the fact that I actually did an Uncle Drew spot with Bill Russell, that’s — for me, that’s like, man, that is legendary. He’s over there and he’s talking and you can just tell he was a f—ing unbelievable hooper. He’s walking, he’s a little bit older now, but you can just know that verve that older people carry. They’ve been walking this earth for so long. They have so much wisdom and so much knowledge. “For me, being Uncle Drew, I just try to be in that channel as much as I can and be in that mindset of just, give back, consistently give back. It’s always great to hear older people talk, they kind of talk as Yoda, they leave these things like, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ with some unbelievable quotes that are simple but hit home.”
But they knew where they wanted to draw the line. The Lakers wouldn’t allow the Balls’ Facebook Watch show, “Ball in the Family,” to film games for free, as other NBA teams have. According to sources, AEG (a minority owner of the Lakers, which owns and operates Staples Center) charged the production company that produces the show when they filmed at games. And when Lonzo Ball wanted to buy 20 premier-level tickets to every Lakers home game for his extended family, a source said he was charged $150,000, the same amount as any other customer for those seats.