THE WAY BACK … Premiering March 6th
By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
NEW YORK – “So, Ben,” we asked of Academy Award winning actor Ben Affleck as he was winding down from a media junket full of interviews in Downtown Manhattan, a couple days after beginning the promotional tour for his new motion picture, THE WAY BACK, on the set of the NBA on TNT’s INSIDE the NBA, “did you have to bring your “A-Game” to the set at Turner Sports?”
“I LOVE that show,” said Affleck without a second of hesitation. “Those guys are the best because you want to hear their personal take, you know what I mean? They’re not afraid to step outside the zone, of ‘you can’t say this or you can’t say that.’ I just love it.
“If every show was like that, this process (the movie promo tour biz) would be heaven. They’re good guys. They’re smart, and being at that level, you respect their opinions. They’re not afraid to say controversial stuff. Frankly, that’s why I think they’re so successful,” said Affleck.
Of course Affleck was speaking of Sports Emmy Award winning (and newly crowned Basketball Hall of Fame (Curt Gowdy Transformative Media) Award winners: Ernie Johnson Jr., Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, who welcomed the Hollywood star and Academy Award winner to their set this past Thursday to begin a lengthy media tour for the stars and producer/director (Gavin O’Connor) of the film.
In that film, Affleck plays Jack Cunningham – a once promising high school basketball phenom who has fallen on unspeakable hard times in his latter-years. THE WAY BACK tells the story of Cunningham (no spoiler alerts here) and the road to redemption which is filled with stories and inspirational messages.
Take a look at the movie trailer (TV spots began during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend and will continue as the film debuts nationwide on March 6th).
“It’s a basketball movie, but it’s NOT a basketball movie,” said TNT’s Johnson. “It centers on this high school team trying to make their way back from the depths and so does the coach.”
“It’s about real people with team problems,” said Affleck to the Inside the NBA crew and a national TV audience, “and not unlike Chris Herren‘s (Boston College, Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics) life, although my character never made the pros.
“It’s also about the coach, and he gets as much from the players as the players get from the coach. Within, there’s sad stuff – alcoholism, death, divorce – but to me, the message is ‘You are NOT your problems. You are the solution to your problems,” said Affleck.
“I love what this movie suggests about men being vulnerable with each other on a team. In that locker, being able to discuss with each other how they’re feeling, what they’re scared of, what they want and what they need. That’s the heart of the movie.”
Digital Sports Desk will provide readers a full movie review, complete with exclusive insights provided the weekend before the premier. That column will be featured this week (either Wednesday or Thursday).
Here Now, The Notes … NFL Players Association player representatives delayed a vote on a proposed collective bargaining agreement after the union’s executive committee voted against recommending the deal on the table. … Citing a source, ESPN reported that the NFL and NFLPA will meet Tuesday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis for further discussions. A vote by the NFLPA board of player representatives could take place either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, he said, adding that it would still require a vote of all players afterward on the proposal. … The NFLPA executive committee on Friday voted 6-5 on Friday against recommending the currently proposed collective bargaining agreement. … The NFL Network first reported the vote’s outcome, noting that the executive committee also is the same group responsible for negotiating the deal. However, several committee members, including vice presidents Russell Okung and Richard Sherman, oppose the deal, according to the report. … The executive committee’s vote serves as a recommendation, and the proposed CBA now goes to the 32 player representatives. That group was expected to vote on Friday but the NFLPA said it didn’t occur. … “Today, the NFLPA Board of Player Representatives did not take a vote on the principal terms of a proposed new collective bargaining agreement,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “Our player leadership looks forward to meeting with NFL management again next week before the Board takes a vote shortly after.” … According to a report by ESPN’s Dan Graziano, earlier this week union leaders and union lawyers decided to hold a full vote regardless of the player representatives’ recommendation. More than 50 percent of the membership must vote in favor of the CBA for it to be approved. … One influential player, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, voiced his displeasure via a Twitter post with a simple “Hard No, as it related to his personal viewpoint on the vote. On Thursday, NFL owners approved the CBA, which required the agreement of more than three-fourths of the owners in order to ratify the deal. … A conference call for the 32 player reps had been set, and they were expected to focus on key terms of the agreement including expanding the regular season to 17 games and expanding the playoff field to seven teams in each conference, according to the ESPN report. Other key points include an increased share of revenues for players, increased spending minimums for clubs, changes to the league’s drug policy regarding marijuana, a modified on-field discipline fine schedule and increased benefits for former players. … The current CBA was ratified in 2011 and is set to expire following the 2020 season. If approved by the players, the new CBA could reportedly go into effect in time for the new league year, which begins March 18.
Do You Believe in Miracles? Yes! – As THE WAY BACK motion picture crew does their Junket Across America tour to promote the basketball-themed movie, Director/Producer Gavin O’Connor is also enjoying very fond memories of his prior work from the acclaimed 2004 movie hit “Miracle,” the story of the 1980 United States Olympics ice hockey team that upset the (then) Soviet Union team in the semifinals and went on to win the Gold Medal at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. … That story, for an entire generation of Americans and US hockey fans is hands-down the greatest event of their sporting lives. Most can’t believe it was 40 years ago (February 22, 1980). … O’Connor told the amazing story through the eyes of the late Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 team, who was portrayed by actor Kurt Russell. … During interview held – literally 40 years to the date of the “Miracle,” O’Connor said: “I remember watching that game when I was a little boy,” he said, setting up his amazing ability to tell a story, “and I was inches from the television and not even aware, back then, that it was actually taped. The game was over and I remember my entire neighborhood – I grew up on Long Island (Huntington NY), middle class – and everyone was out, banging pots and pans, celebrating like it was New Year’s Eve.” … “That was such an indelible moment in my life where I can remember – literally – where I was when it happened, so when the opportunity was presented to bring that story to life, for me it became this archeological dig. The more I got to know the players and Herb the more interesting it became because all the players had a very different perspective on the same exact event.” (During the interview actor Ben Affleck interjected, “NO, I SCORED THAT GOAL!) … “Excluding those big moments, all the little moments, what got them there. The Norway game,” noted O’Connor. “It was liberating as a storyteller because I could take an amalgam of all the different stories from all the different players.”
“I’ll give you one funny story: “I called up Herb one day, and I asked why did it take you three months to pick the team. He went to IOC, USOC, all these different Olympic Committee (events) as the team went through three months of trials. I asked why it took him three months and he said, ‘it was all politics’ and he was jumping through all these hoops. “I asked, did you know your team, going in? Day one? And, he said he actually wrote the team down on a piece of paper and after three months of all the BS’ing, my way and when I had to pick the team, it was the EXACT same team I had on Day One!” … “The way the script was written, for three months we were watching you, so I said, ‘what I’d like to do for the movie is pick the team in one day. I would’ve never suggested that, but he told me he actually picked the team going in. This isn’t a documentary and it’s within the spirit of the story. Would you of picked the team in one day? ‘Oh yeah, of course I would’ve of.’ … “He LOVED that idea.” … Affleck brought up the great quote, asking, ‘was it a real quote that they can beat us nine times out of 10 but not today.’ Added Affleck “that might be one of … maybe THE BEST sports quote of all time.”
We’ll finish with our fave, which was quoted from an unnamed friend of ’80 Olympic Team captain Michael “Rizz, Rizzo” Eruzione who said: “Three inches to the left and you’d be painting bridges.”
Diamond Dust … The Chicago Cubs want to get third baseman Kris Bryant as many at-bats as possible by using him in the leadoff spot this season. … “When you talk about putting the best players in baseball at the top of the order, that’s our best player, and I want to put him at the top,” new Cubs manager David Ross told reporters Wednesday. “He’s on board. I’m on board. It’s something I’ve been thinking about long and hard, and I’m excited about it. … I’m super excited about it.” … Bryant has played in more than 700 games and started 696 of them, but he has only been the Cubs’ leadoff hitter in seven games. He has a .387 on-base percentage in the role, with a .321 batting average in 28 at-bats. … “I said, ‘I’m here to do whatever you want,'” Bryant said. “If you need me to be that guy for you, I’m your guy. I think I have the right mindset, because I’ve always been the type to say, ‘Give me that fifth at-bat because I want it.'” … NYY Giancarlo Stanton thought about the prospect of knowing what pitches were coming via illegal sign stealing and realized how he could have used it to his advantage. … “If I knew what was coming in ’17, I probably would have hit 80-plus home runs,” Stanton told reporters Wednesday at the New York Yankees spring training base in Tampa. … Stanton hit a major-league best 59 homers in 2017 when he was named National League MVP while playing for the Miami Marlins — the most home runs in the major leagues since 2001. … He made the comment while expressing his opinion that the sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros is a bad look. Especially with the way the Astros decided to handle it publicly. … “It would have been better if there was an apology or explanation on their side,” Stanton said. “We know that (the Astros) don’t really care to give an apology or explain their side, and it showed by their response. As players, we know that. You know the repercussions of doing something like that, and you’re only really sorry because you got caught.” … Of course, last season, even if he knew the pitches he wouldn’t been able to hit them, as he was sidelined for all but 18 games. … Houston was punished by Major League Baseball commissioner Rod Manfred but the discipline didn’t involve any players. The club’s 2017 World Series title was allowed to stand, and that bothers Stanton. … Teammate Aaron Judge expressed his disapproval on Tuesday, saying “it wasn’t earned the way of playing the game right and fighting to the end.” Stanton said he agreed with Judge’s viewpoint. … “They did their investigation and it was clean-cut that they cheated that year, which means it should be taken away,” Stanton said. “I mean, if you cheat in another way during the season you can’t even be in the playoffs, so therefore you would be eliminated. So it’s pretty much the same — same difference. … “I don’t think the penalties were harsh enough player-wise. I think that, at the end of the day, it gives more incentive to do that, if you’re not going to punish the players that took part in it.”
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