Phil Jackson and Ron 'White Men Can't Jump’ Shelton Are Making a Basketball Show for Showtime

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Good news, people who have long believed that a no-holds-barred premium-cable behind-the-scenes depiction of the running of an NBA team would make for riveting television! As Deadline reports, Showtime has enlisted the powers of Phil Jackson, his fiancée and Lakers exec Jeanie Buss, and Ron Shelton (oh: and, um, Kurt Rambis and his wife?) to put together “a one-hour scripted drama set behind the scenes of a pro basketball team and the family that runs it.” So, do we have your attention?

Now, let’s think about this for a minute, and separate the knowns from the unknowns.

Knowns:

  • Hiring Ron Shelton as showrunner is a nice move for a couple reasons. For one, between Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump, and Blue Chips, the guy’s basically synonymous with “smart sports movies with mass appeal.” (As the always helpful and spirited IMDb trivia page informs me, the dude actually played minor league baseball, which explains a lot.) And after decades of plying his trade on the big screen, he’s going TV — always a smart move for an industry vet with plenty more to give but with increased difficulty (one presumes) with getting stuff green-lit.
  • Shelton actually first attempted the move in 2010, with the TBS one-hour comedy pilot Hound Dogs; I have zero recollection of this existing, but apparently it did eventually see life as a USA TV movie. Take that misfire how you will, but I will count it all as added TV wisdom battle scars. Plus, now he’s doing television for Showtime, arguably the best shop in the biz, and not piddling TBS.
  • And finally: Shelton has cowriting credit on Bad Boys II, so he might yet have been the one to put the immortal words “shit just got real” in Martin Lawrence’s mouth. In conclusion: Ron Shelton? Yes, absolutely, very good.

Unknown No. 1: As Deadline explains, the show comes from Jeanie Buss and her BFF Linda Rambis’s Street Reason Entertainment; Buss’s man Phil and Linda’s man Kurt are just listed as fellow executive producers. Did I know that Jeanie Buss and Kurt Rambis’s wife had a production company called Street Reason Entertainment? No. No I did not. Does it make perfect sense that their first big splash would be a basketball project? Of course: Pushing an NBA show with that hallowed name “Phil Jackson” attached sounds like a pretty easy sell. That brings up one big question: Is Phil really going to be in the trenches, giving notes, tweaking plot lines? Or is his name attached more or less ’cause Jeanie asked, over eggs in the breakfast nook, if it was cool?

Unknown No. 2: Obviously everyone is going to assume the show will borrow plot lines from the real, and fascinating, Buss family empire. But is Jeanie Buss really interested in airing out her own dirty laundry? And even if she were: Could we really trust her to do so in the unflinching manner that the material calls for? If Ron Shelton had been given a show loosely inspired by the Busses, without their involvement, this might all be a bit more promising. Counterintuitively, having Phil and Jeanie onboard might bungle the whole thing.

Unknown No. 3: Is the NBA going to license its product to Showtime? Or are we soon going to learn all about the fierce rivalry between the L.A. Oceans and the Boston Irish People?

Filed Under: Showtime, TV News

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Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ AmosBarshad