Everyone dreams of being the star athlete, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes for the men and women who successfully live that dream. For their agents, it’s not just blood, sweat and tears in the gym and on the training field – dealing with demanding sponsors and temperamental clients is harder than being on the field of play.
In Ballers (2015-2019, steam all five seasons on Showmax), that stress is more or less handled well by Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his agent bestie Joe (comedian Rob Corddry), who talk the talk and almost always walk the walk… when their clients aren’t getting into trouble.
When the final season aired in August this year, Dwayne tweeted “My heart 🖤 is full of gratitude to all of you for rockin’ with us every season. You made us HBO’s highest rated comedy for years and most importantly, you helped create and sustain a platform for other actors to have the OPPORTUNITY to work hard, grow and become household names. To me, the opportunity Ballers created for so many others, is the real gold of our show. I love you, I thank you.”
He wasn’t the only one loving the show – here are five must-see moments that’ll get you hooked too…
Season 1, episode 1: Florida dreaming
It’s not so much a moment as it is getting you in the mood: the intro theme simply is everything. There’s the gratuitous Florida dream life (the white sandy beaches, mansions, yachts and penthouses), but it’s the football imagery, the athletes training, actual clips of Dwayne’s time as a college all-star footballer… it’s perfect.
And throw in the theme song – Lil Wayne’s Right Above it – and you will be in the mood to play NFL football even if you don’t know the first thing about the sport. Set one, set two, hut hut hut…
Season 2, episode 1: Rolling with the punches
There’s a saying about guys: the bigger they are, they harder they fall. But what happens when you’ve got Spencer (Dwayne is 1.93m and 130kg of pure muscle) and someone the same size antagonising him on TV talkshow Glazed & Confused?
Carnage! Backdrops are knocked over, people are punched, poor Joe is trying to separate the men by pulling Spencer away by the leg. While we don’t see the actual fight, Joe giving his much bigger dishevelled colleague a stern talking to as they leave is too funny.
Season 3, episode 4: Concussed and confused
It’s no secret that NFL stars get hurt on the field – mostly concussions. And that takes a toll on their memory. Shame, watching Ricky Jerrett (John David Washington, Denzel Washington’s son who played pro NFL) go into his house while on the phone with his bestie, who’s also in his house… well, it’s pretty obvious that Ricky is in the wrong place when they’re both in the kitchen and they’re not together.
So imagine Ricky’s surprise when he takes yoghurt out of “his” fridge, only to be confronted by an angry white teenager in “his” house – the punch-up that follows is too funny not to laugh. At least Ricky is sincere with his apology…
Season 4, episode 7: Echoes of real life
The real-life NFL kneeling controversy caused by Colin Kaepernick and other players of colour is brought into the show when Ricky lashes out at a bunch of racists at a neighbour’s party in Florida. Instead of letting them put him down for something he hasn’t actually done yet, Ricky stands up and puts them in their places, reminding onlookers that they know nothing of what black players are experiencing and what they go through.
That realism makes the other fictional stuff a whole lot more fun and believable. Plus, it shows the passion that Ricky (and by default real-life players) has for the game – it’s literally the only thing he’s good at and he’s willing to wear his heart on his sleeve, whether people like it or not.
Season 5, episode 2: Handling the media
Okay, so Dwayne has been in sports all his life. He was a third-generation WWE Superstar so he knows what it takes to make it big. He also knows about the off-camera work that goes on, like interviews with magazines and journalists around the world.
That has been built into episode 2, with Spencer sitting down for a camera interview where he’s asked everything from his biggest regret as a former athlete to his future as an NFL franchise owner. Dwayne did countless interviews like this with the WWE, so he comes across as impossibly perfect as Spencer – you actually believe that he is his character because his delivery so flawless.