Spike Lee's iconic basketball movie 'He Got Game' is celebrating its 20th birthday this year, but the movie (and how it came to be) may still hold a few surprises -- even for some of its biggest fans.
The movie stars Ray Allen, then in his early 20s and with the Milwaukee Bucks, as a high school basketball phenom named Jesus Shuttlesworth. The plot centers around Jesus' college recruitment and the complicated relationship he has with his estranged father (played by Denzel Washington) who is serving time in prison.
The warden of that prison allows the elder Shuttlesworth a temporary release so he can convince Jesus to commit to the fictional Big State -- a college program backed by the warden. One of the most pivotal scenes in the movie comes in the final act when Jesus and his father play a high-stakes game of 1-on-1 at the local playground. If Jesus loses, he has to commit to Big State, which would in turn grant his father an early release from prison.
What plays out on screen is a back-and-forth battle between father and son on the court, but it wasn't supposed to happen that way. The script called for a blowout, but Washington was having a pretty good night on the court while they were shooting the scene.
"It was supposed to be 11-0," Allen recently told Yahoo Entertainment. The two-time NBA champ has a new autobiography out called From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love, and he recalled filming the Spike Lee classic, which turns 20 this year. "But when we started playing, [Denzel] started shooting the ball, and the ball was going in," said Allen.
Despite what was written in the script, Washington, who played a few years of junior varsity basketball at Fordham, was competitive and intent on scoring at least one bucket on Allen. As it turns out, he did a lot better than one bucket. Washington put up five on him, or at least that's how many made the film's final cut.
With Washington successfully and unexpectedly dropping buckets, they paused shooting and Allen -- again, a legitimate professional basketball player -- was chastised by his acting coach for an inability to play on-ball defense.
"We cut at one point, and I went over to [my acting coach], and she's like, 'What are you doing? You're not supposed to let him score.' I was like, 'Susan, basketball is unpredictable. I can't zap my eyes and make the ball not go in. Once he shot it, I'm at the mercy of whether it goes in or not.'"
That's a tough look for Allen, and I'm willing to bet he didn't think he'd have to spend time arguing the merits of his defensive ability to an acting coach on set, but the visual of such a situation is pretty hilarious.
At the time, it wasn't quite as funny to Allen, who was a little annoyed that a Hollywood actor was delivering an ego-check on the court.
"I'm frustrated if anybody ever scores on me," said Allen.
Ultimately, though, Allen concedes that Washington's success against him led to a better and "more organic" scene to close out the movie. While that's hard to argue, it's likely that Allen would still take the shutout if he had a choice in the matter.