Hustle Never Drags

Poster for the movie Hustle – Fair Use

Hustle is a sports drama streaming on Netflix now that has the feel of a true story. Though the 2022 film is a work of fiction, it brings much truthfulness about life on and off the hardwood courts of the National Basketball Association to viewers.

Directed by Jeremiah Zagar of Philadelphia, Hustle narrates the ebbs and flows of Stanley Sugerman, an ex-college athlete, and current scout and coach for the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA.

He spends time away from his family on the road living from a suitcase and eating fast food while searching for basketball prospects to become members of the 76ers. Adam Sandler plays Sugerman with ease.

Did someone say empathy? You have to feel for him when he misses his daughter’s birthday for nine straight years. Why? The reason is employment.
Following an employer’s wishes means work trumps home life. This is a truism for most adults like the Sugerman character most of the time.
Queen Latifah plays Teresa Sugerman, Stanley’s better half. She is a rock-solid mate who backs him at key moments when he needs firmness and kindness to counter career challenges.

Things brighten for Sugerman when he is abroad and discovers Bo Cruz, a diamond-in-the-rough player with NBA potential. Juancho Hernangomez, who plays for the NBA Toronto Raptors, portrays Cruz.

Robert Duvall, one of my favorite actors since I saw him in The Godfather as a teen, is Rex Merrick, the owner of the 76ers, in Hustle. Merrick gives Sugerman career and personal advice that resonates throughout the film.

Ben Foster is Vince, Rex’s son. He does not share his father’s positive take on Sugerman’s view of Cruz as an NBA prospect. Vince has a mentality that you could describe as entitled. Vince was born on third base and thinks that he hit a triple to arrive there.
The conflict between the Vince and Sugerman characters drives the narrative of Hustle. Who will get what he wants, employer or employee?
NBA fans will, I think, delight in the many active and retired players with film roles. I did.

A partial list includes Kenny Smith, Anthony Edwards, Julius Erving and Seth Curry. Edwards plays Kermit Wilts.
He is a force on the court who talks no small amount of trash to Cruz. This trash talking, which goes with the territory of playing basketball, takes the basketball skills of Cruz to a higher level.

Sugerman pushing Cruz to get in NBA shape for pivotal tryouts before management and other scouts resembles certain scenes in the Rockyfilms. Hustle and Rocky are both set in Philadelphia.

LeBron James, perhaps the greatest player in NBA history, produced Hustle in one of his many business ventures, the SpringHill company. The Lakers star picked a winner in Hustle.

That should come as no surprise. The business acumen of James, an NBA legend, is why, along with his amazing basketball skills, he is a billionaire today.

Hustle runs for nearly two hours but never drags, in my view. The film is a sports drama but there is much in it to savor about being true to one’s dreams and persevering when the going gets tough, to resonate with many viewers.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email