Spoiler Alert: If you have not yet seen Hustle and don’t want parts spoiled, do not read this article.
Late last week, Netflix made Adam Sandler’s highly-anticipated movie Hustle available. Hype had been surrounding the release of this movie for quite some time. Sandler’s last major movie, Uncut Gems, showcased a revitalized turn in the actor’s career, straying away from his traditionally goofy typecast and turning over a new leaf as a dramatic lead. Sandler still possesses his touch of comedic brilliance, but the tonal change has been a natural progression of character for a fanbase that has grown alongside Sandler and his movies since the early 90s.
Hustle is a modern-age drama that is catered directly to basketball fans. The cast is a cornucopia of NBA players, coaches, media personalities, and others that have been living embodiments of the game over the last few decades. It is a feel-good story about a Spanish basketball prodigy, Bo Cruz (brilliantly played by Juancho Hernangómez), who overcomes adversity to make it to the NBA. This movie has been made a thousand times, but that doesn’t take away from Hustle’s role as a piece of league history.
Perhaps this movie’s unique angle is that of the overseas scout recruiting foreign players. This phenomenon has been well-documented with soccer, a far more internationally acclaimed sport through which international scouting is an integral part of keeping teams and organizations afloat. The novel “The Belly of the Atlantic” by Fatou Diome dives into the dangers of how failed opportunities playing abroad can pose as high-risk scenarios for players who don’t make a team. These athletes have much to lose if they cannot capitalize on their opportunities. To a lesser degree, Hustle highlights just how make-or-break these chances can be for international players like Cruz, who are otherwise blue-collar citizens. It explains Cruz’s frustration when he encounters the notion that the Philadelphia 76ers may not want him after all that work.
Much like its predecessor, Uncut Gems, Hustle’s release is an important moment of time in Minnesota basketball lore. The movie is salient with the fingerprints of the Minnesota Timberwolves organization. Hernangomez was still employed by Minnesota when he was cast to be the co-lead alongside Sandler. Leon Rich, the fictitious agent who works closely with Sandler’s character Stanley Sugerman, was described as having been a former Wolves player in his early career. Hell, Dave Benz and Jim Petersen‘s voices made an appearance at the end of the film. Any Wolves reference in a major movie is a win for Minnesota, and the fact that many of the foundational pieces for Hustle were built in Minnesota bodes well for the film’s longevity in the hearts of fans.
Of course, Timberwolves fans did not tune in to see Hernangómez. The state of Minnesota streamed Hustle to watch its prodigal son, Anthony Edwards, play the character of Kermit Wilts, a certifiably badass heel who got under the skin of Cruz at every opportunity. Edwards was uniquely and authentically himself throughout the whole movie. His skill set and athleticism were on full display, and his time spent under Patrick Beverley’s wing reared its head with a memorable collection of one-liners:
“So you’re from Spain, huh? Shit sounds wack.”
“I’d be a great stepdad.”
Ant’s presence and prominence in Hustle work to erode the notion that the Timberwolves are still a floundering and beleaguered franchise. Edwards’ magnetism in this role also ensures the sustainability of his individual stardom. Per Hustle’s director, Jeremiah Zagar, Sandler requested that Edwards be cast for the role of Wilts. One could speculate that the connection between Kevin Garnett and Sandler helped facilitate the acquisition of Edwards for Hustle. Regardless, it is a brimming vote of confidence in the young player to be brought in for such an important role in such a highly anticipated film.
The best part about this casting is that Edwards made the character of Kermit Wilts his own. Comments on acting chops aside, it was an authentic performance that gave a glimpse into the special player and person that Timberwolves fans have grown to love over the past two years. Sandler could have cast anybody for this role; several established players in the league were likely champing at the bit to play this role at the time of filming. Anthony Edwards had barely finished his rookie season by this point, but Sandler saw the gravity of his personality and allowed the chemistry of two then-teammates to flourish. It was a win for Sandler, Edwards, Minnesota, and the entirety of Hustle.
Perhaps one of the most exciting developments has been the public reception of Edwards as Wilts. Hernangomez should be lauded for his acting work, but many fans unexpectedly fell in love with Ant’s performance. “If we were to make a ‘Hustle 2,‘” Zagar told Yahoo, “it would be about him.”
Movements like this encapsulate the vision of new owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore for the Timberwolves. They are looking to establish the franchise as a premier destination for players laden with star power and ample opportunities to establish personal brands alongside a winning culture. By showcasing Edwards’ seemingly endless talents, it is proving yet another reason why players should want to seek greener pastures in Minnesota.
Watching the rapid ascent of a player like Edwards has been vindicating for several reasons. The role in Hustle all but confirms the notion that we are within one to two years of Edwards becoming one of the faces of the league. As he continues to rise, so too will the Timberwolves, and the good times are sure to keep rolling in the land of 10,000 lakes.