Streaming Sundays: Hustle (2022)

After a newly promoted NBA basketball coach gets demoted back to a talent scout, he places all his bets on a young troubled Spanish baller with the potential to be a top NBA draft pick. Hustle (2022) is now available to stream on Netflix.

Hustle has heart. It is a truly unique Netflix entry. Not only that, it is a Netflix/Adam Sandler collaboration that we haven’t seen before. For one, it is a drama – not just any drama, but a sports drama. Make no mistake, there are many comedic moments in this movie, but it does not take away from the grounded, emotional center. Adam Sandler is a powerhouse in his portrayal of a middle-aged NBA scout with his back against the wall trying to pursue his dreams. This movie is a breath of fresh air and has a message that can inspire anyone.

Stanley Sugarman (Sandler) has an eye for basketball talent. He is an expert at reading the potential of a basketball player, but he has bigger dreams – becoming a coach for The Philadelphia 76ers for one. Stanley finally gets an opportunity of a lifetime (and his dream job) when he is made assistant coach by the owner of the 76ers, Rex Merrick (played by Robert Duvall). Those dreams are dashed when Rex passes away and his arrogant son, Vince – played by Ben Foster – takes over the team. Vince Merrick demotes Stanley back to the scout position, claiming his talents are best served in his former role.

Stanley accepts the demotion and you can feel his disappointment as he travels to Spain with his head hanging low to view the talent Merrick wants assessed for the team. His outlook starts to change when he comes across a remarkable basketball player named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) entertaining the local crowd in a competitive pick-up game. Stanley brings Cruz back to the US with him in hopes of convincing Vince to consider him for the team, but Vince refuses to accept Stanley’ recommendation.

After Cruz bombs at his first NBA scouting event, Stanley abruptly quits his job with only his coaching dreams (and Cruz’ talent) to propel him. From there, he leads Bo on a journey towards basketball stardom. Unfortunately for the duo, they have their work cut out for them trying to convince the “who’s who” of the NBA to take a chance on an unknown Spanish street baller. 

The father-son dynamic between Sandler and Hernangomez is very heartfelt and real on screen. At first glance, these characters do not have much in common besides an undying love for basketball, but as the story unfolds, we see that these two are very similar men, with similar dreams and the cards stacked against them. They have families to feed, but they are trying to make room for their big dream, which seems to have eluded them both before they meet. As these stories tend to go, they need belief from one another to get to their NBA dream. They also have blemishes from their pasts that come back to haunt them the closer they get to their goal.

This movie has all the ingredients of a superb sports drama: dynamic training montages edited like your favorite Nike commercials, a storyline with high stakes, and excellent shots of Cruz in competition. What’s a training sequence without a Rocky-esque steps moment? You’ll laugh and tear up during this one. Adam has already shown time and time again that he can bring the emotional center to any material he chooses to, but the surprise here is the actual NBA player Juancho Hernangomez. His performance was so charming and natural that you cannot help but to pull for Bo. The supporting cast also makes an impact in this film. Queen Latifah has a mighty resume when it comes to comedy, romance, drama and musicals, so her pivotal role as Sugarman’s rock/wife, T,  was so seamless and impeccable, you believe that they could be married in real life. She gave the movie so much more warmth and gave us more reasons to root for this family man.

For a film that works adjacent to the world of the NBA, it feels very relatable. Despite cameos from Dr. J, Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki, Allen Iverson, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, and more NBA-affiliated legends, we are following the story of a man who is not the main attraction. He is a team player, but his role on the team (though vital) is not respected much at all. Nothing about his life is extravagant – except for the massive corporation he works for. That’s something everyone who has ever worked for a large company can relate to. The people that bust their ass everyday to make an impact aren’t just the “major players” and “CEOs” – a large part of the work actually falls on the staff working to not only make their team better but the organization better. Unfortunately, when you have senior leadership that wants to keep the “little guys” where they are at, those people hardly make a fuss because that’s their livelihood. They do not have much room to take a risk. 

Stanley Sugarman and Bo Cruz represent the unknowns who decide to reject the role that they have been given in order to pursue their passion. That could be one of the main reasons why so many people have responded positively to this film. It feels timely and real for anyone who has ever been counted out, unfulfilled and unappreciated at a job – especially in this pandemic era where we see people resigning from their jobs left and right to pursue what fulfills them. It takes a lot of courage to step out on your own and move towards your passion. Success is never guaranteed, but if there is anything to learn from this movie, when it comes to your dreams you should always shoot your shot.