"He said they belonged to a famous basketball player
when he was a kid. You know…the tall, bald one. "
- Sister Theresa, Chesterfield Group Home
Fourteen year old, hoops-loving Calvin Cambridge has a dream: to be a famous basketball player - to mix it up among the NBA's greatest. But in a game dominated by giants with unparalleled athletic abilities, Calvin's diminutive stature and limited skills, make this a far-off fantasy. Or is it? After he laces up a mysterious pair of old sneakers inscribed with the faded initials "MJ," Calvin makes the leap from playground hijinks to NBA superstardom … hitting 25-foot jumpers, making behind-the-back passes and slamming home devastating dunks. Along the way, Calvin teaches his incredulous All-Star roommate and teammates a few non-hoops-related lessons.
Hip hop sensation Lil Bow Wow makes his motion picture starring debut - while teaming up with some of the NBA's finest - in the new comedy LIKE MIKE. The film is produced by Barry Josephson ("Wild, Wild West," "The Tick") and Peter Heller ("Bones," "Brown Sugar") and directed by John Schultz ("Drive Me Crazy") from a script by Michael Elliot and Jordan Moffet. Executive producers are Adam Silver and Gregg Winik. The director of photography is Shawn Maurer. Production designer Arlan Jay Vetter, costume designer Mary Jane Fort, editors Peter Berger, A. C. E. and John Pace, co-producer Garrett Grant, composer Richard Gibbs and special effects coordinator Paul Lombardi round out the technical team.
Starring with Lil Bow Wow are Morris Chestnut ("Two Can Play That Game," "The Best Man") as NBA star Tracey Reynolds, who reluctantly mentors Calvin; Jonathan Lipnicki ("Jerry Maguire," "Stuart Little") and Brenda Song ("Leave It to Beaver) as Calvin's best friends Murph and Reg; Jesse Plemons and Julius Ritter as Ox and Marlon, Calvin's nemeses at the Chesterfield Group Home; Anne Meara, of "Stiller and Meara" fame, as the group home's teacher, Sister Theresa; Crispin Glover ("Nurse Betty," "Charlie's Angels") as Stan Bittleman, who runs Chesterfield with an iron hand and questionable morals, Robert Forster ("Jackie Brown," "Me, Myself and Irene") as Los Angeles Knights Coach Wagner and Eugene Levy ("Best in Show") as Knights general manager Frank Bernard.
Many NBA stars, including Chris Webber, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, Tracy McGrady and Gary Payton, make cameo appearances.
Calvin Cambridge, one of the older residents of the Chesterfield Group Home, has been through it all so many times before: It's another "prospective parents day" at the orphanage. A day to get dressed up in his best outfit, smile bravely, act sweetly and, hopefully, catch the eye - and the hearts - of one of the many couples looking for that one special kid. But, today will be like all the others, and Calvin will end it with his best friends Murph (Jonathan Lipnicki) and Reg (Brenda Song) on the backyard basketball court. He'll shoot hoops while fantasizing about his dream of someday playing in the NBA and hope that next time his dream of finding a family will come true.
"Most of the kids at the orphanage are five and under," notes director John Schultz, "and those are the kids parents are looking for, not the teens like Calvin. "
"They call the young ones 'puppies,'" says Lil Bow Wow, "and the older kids like Calvin and Murph and Reg are kind of like the old dogs at the pound that never really get adopted. "
The irrepressible Calvin keeps everyone's spirits high. "I'm kind of like the big brother to Murph and Reg, and even to the bully, Ox (Jesse Plemons), even though he and I tangle all the time," says Lil Bow Wow. "I kind of take Murph under my wing and he's like my little partner. Brenda's like the homegirl trying to fit in. And Ox, well, he's just a bully, but even bullies need a boost sometimes," he adds with a laugh.
As long as Calvin remains at the orphanage, he has to deal with Bittleman (Crispin Glover) who runs the Chesterfield Group Home. "Bittleman is the head of the orphanage and has complete control over the children," says Crispin Glover of his character, "and he uses that fact to his advantage, not necessarily theirs. I'm kind of an evil person - the guy you love to hate and laugh at. "
Calvin's only adult ally at Chesterfield is his teacher, Sister Theresa (Anne Meara), who acts tough but really loves all the kids in her care. "I'm always on Calvin to keep up with his studies, do his homework," states Meara. "Sister Theresa really wants him to win in life and that's why she cares about him. "
Sister Theresa makes the discovery that will change Calvin's life. On top of a box of old clothing is an pair of old basketball sneakers. Sister Theresa brings a box of donated clothes into the orphanage and out tumbles the well-worn Nikes. She gives them to Calvin, telling him the guy who dropped them off said they once belonged to some famous basketball player. "He tries them on," says director John Schultz, "and they're a perfect fit. It's like Cinderella. "
"I get this pair of old shoes," says Lil Bow Wow. "So I convince myself that a famous basketball star may have played in them, and when I put them on, the next thing I know is I'm hitting 30-foot jump shots on the court in the back of the orphanage. "
Calvin is wearing those shoes on a night when he, Murph, Reg and Ox are sitting in the nosebleed section of Staples Center. They're watching as the hapless Los Angeles Knights, Calvin's favorite team, and the team's star, Tracey Reynolds (Morris Chestnut), Calvin's hero, struggle through another losing game. At half-time the Knights' general manager, Frank Bernard (Eugene Levy), announces the seat location of the winner of his latest gimmick: a chance to go one-on-one against Tracey Reynolds. "As the general manager of a losing team, I have to constantly rely on contests and things to put people in the seats," says Levy. "Little do I know that this one will change the course of the entire season. "
One minute Calvin is in the lucky seat and the next minute he's at mid court, in front of thousands of people, looking up - way up - in awe at Tracey, who's bored of the whole thing. Tracey's indifference quickly becomes frustration and then total embarrassment: In quick succession Calvin fakes left and goes right for an easy lay-up, fakes a drive and pulls up for a 30-foot, nothing-but-net, jumper and then, to the amazement of all, flies high above the hoop for a rim-rattling slam dunk.
"Tracey is the star of a losing team, I'm in the middle of a long slump, and the general manager's got me participating in these stunts," states Morris Chestnut. "That's bad enough, but being totally embarrassed is worse. I never want to see this kid again. "
But Bernard has other ideas. The general manager sees in Calvin the makings of a first-rate publicity stunt and plans to sign him to a Knights contract, never intending to play him in a game. And because Calvin is an orphan, Bittleman is his legal guardian and reaps the rewards, to the tune of five thousand dollars.
Bernard's plan takes a U-turn as Calvin does get into the very next game, makes the game-winning shot, and becomes the darling of the fans. Bittleman gets richer as Calvin's contract is re-negotiated, and Tracey Reynolds gets more frustrated as Calvin's popularity exceeds his. What's worse, the Knights coach Wagner (Robert Forster) appoints Tracey to be Calvin's guardian on the road. Reynolds, whose relationship with his own father is far from ideal, wants nothing to do with being a father figure for Calvin.
Tracey ultimately learns some valuable lessons from his young room- and teammate, while Calvin leads the once-downtrodden Knights to victory. And Calvin's other dream - to become part of a family - also looks to become a reality.
Getting LIKE MIKE into production was, unlike most motion picture projects, a fast-break, rather than a time-out. "You often hear the term 'development hell' in Hollywood," says producer Peter Heller, "about a project that ends up taking forever to get made. But this movie has been just the opposite. " Indeed, it was a mere fourteen months from the time Heller and story and co-screenwriter Michael Elliott sold the script to Fox until the film's release.
Finding the right star to head the cast turned out to be just as easy. "We attached Lil Bow Wow to this movie because it's a Cinderella story," continues Heller, "and we needed a kid who not only has enormous appeal, but one who could play basketball believably and carry a movie, because he's in nearly every scene. "
Producer Barry Josephson had a production deal with Fox and the studio was looking for someone with the experience necessary to get LIKE MIKE into production. Josephson drew inspiration from a prominent newscast. "I had recently watched a '60 Minutes' piece on how difficult it is for teenage orphans to get adopted," remembers Josephson, "and I thought to myself there's a need to tell this story. But most of all, it's a wonderful fairy tale with an edge - a real, contemporary fairy tale. "
Director John Schultz also was drawn to these story elements and, following a few visits with Lil Bow Wow in the teen's hometown of Columbus, Ohio, was convinced that the teen was the perfect choice to bring Calvin to life. "Bow was pretty much attached, but I went to see him and quickly agreed he was the only guy for the role," states Schultz. "We played basketball, and I realized very quickly that he could play. That relieved me. Most importantly, he's proved to be a terrific actor as well. "
"John flew to see me in Columbus," remembers Lil Bow Wow. "We talked, played basketball, and got to know each other. I let him win a couple of one-on-one games, just to make sure I got the part. But John knows he can't take me. "
Barry Josephson also was impressed with Lil Bow Wow, calling the young star's casting the perfect marriage of actor and role. "Bow's persona really matched Calvin," he points out. "There's something that Bow brings to the role in terms of attitude, scope, charm and abilities that are unique to Calvin. To me, the merging of actor and character was one of those great moments, like Will Smith in 'Men In Black. '"
The rest of the cast is an eclectic mix of talented youngsters and seasoned actors. . "Mixing veteran actors with the kids was a great joy," states director Schultz. "They played off each other really nicely, and there was some great energy. "
Most of the adult roles had been cast early in the process, but the part of Knights' general manager Bernard proved to be difficult to fill, until Eugene Levy read for the part. "The role of Bernard is pivotal," Schultz notes. "He's the one who puts Calvin on the team and the audience has to understand his motivation. Eugene had just what we needed: the energy and the craziness of a P. T. Barnum. "
As the sleazy Bittleman, Crispin Glover creates a true fairy tale villain that will earn him the wrath of a generation of kids. Schultz' direction to Glover, who is known for playing the occasional offbeat character was "just try to act normal. " And, says, Schultz, Glover lent his unique talents to turn Bittleman, into anything but a "normal" scoundrel.
Unlike Bittleman, Coach Wagner has Calvin's best interest in mind. "Wagner's a straight shooter," says Robert Forster of his role. "He wants to keep Calvin's needs at the forefront. After all, he's a kid. He's not supposed to be playing with adults. He's supposed to be in school, kidding around, meeting girls and the usual stuff that fourteen-year-olds do. In addition to wanting to see Calvin win, Coach Wagner wants to see him go back to being a kid. "
As crucial to the film as all the adult characters are, it's the kids who provide the heart and soul of LIKE MIKE. Jonathan Lipnicki, at the ripe old age of eleven, was the "veteran" of the young cast. The star of "Stuart Little" and "Stuart Little 2," and the actor who almost stole "Jerry Maguire" away from Tom Cruise, was more than happy to, as he puts it, "help the other kids any way I could and give them the benefit of my experience. "
The youngsters' limited availability, due to schooling and labor requirements, had Schultz and producers Peter Heller and Barry Josephson constantly under pressure to get what they needed in the time allotted. "The kids' short working hours created a great challenge, especially when they were all in a scene together," remembers Schultz. "It was chaos, at times, their performances more than made up for it. Adds Josephson: "Thanks to the kids, the set was always exciting, and hopefully that fun spirit comes through on screen. "
The energy from the cast was reflected in the work of the film's talented behind-the-camera team. Production designer Arlan Jay Vetter and his crew created sets that included, among others, the exterior and interior of the Chesterfield Home, the Knights locker room, and the interior of the Knights charter jet. With a few minor additions, a one hundred year old Victorian home with a commanding view of downtown Los Angeles served as the exterior of the orphanage. Interiors were created both on stage at the Hollywood Center Studios and at another home in Los Angeles.
The extensive basketball action was shot primarily at the Forum, in Los Angeles. Both home and away games were filmed on the famed Forum hardwood, with Vetter and crew constantly changing colors and logos on the floor. It wasn't unusual on the same day to see the Knights colors on one end and the colors of the Charlotte Hornets or San Antonio Spurs on the other.
It was at the Forum, and later at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, where cast and crew began to get a feel of the fantasy aspect of the shoot. Producer Barry Josephson likens the experience to a basketball fantasy camp. "We shot at the Forum for twelve days, on the very floor that the Lakers won several championships on," he marvels. Lil Bow Wow, an admitted basketball fanatic, was thrilled to be on the "same floor as the Lakers and Celtics played those championship games on. "
Producer Peter Heller adds, "We were standing on the floor where Wilt and Kareem and Magic played. We're all out there taking shots. To be down on that floor dribbling and shooting…it was magic. "
Everyone felt the same way about shooting at Philadelphia's Spectrum, where Dr. J once put his dazzling talents on display. But perhaps the toughest job during those days at these sports palaces was that of the assistant directors, who, says Josephson, "sometime had to pry basketballs away from the cast and crew and get back to shooting. "
In order for audiences to experience Calvin's fantasy, the extensive basketball scenes had to be believable. To make certain the amateur and semi-pro players - and especially Morris Chestnut who plays Tracey Reynolds - looked and played like true NBA luminaries, the producers brought in former NBA star Reggie Theus as basketball coordinator.
Theus designed the plays seen in the film and ran what amounted to an NBA training camp for his charges. "Morris Chestnut and I started working out three weeks prior to the start of shooting, playing one-on-one and running drills. "
"I had played a little basketball," recalls Morris Chestnut, "but football was really my game. The time with Reggie was a great help and hopefully it will show on screen. "
The final piece of the basketball puzzle - making Lil Bow Wow fly - fell to special effects coordinator Paul Lombardi and his crew. "We had to make it believable to an audience that a four-foot, eight-inch kid can play basketball as well as an NBA superstar," says producer Peter Heller. "Bow came to the table with considerable physical skills, but obviously we needed to give him a little help," states Lombardi. "Audiences are going to see him slam dunk and hit forty-foot fadeway jumpers and that required wire work, green screen and digital imaging. If we've done our job, you'll believe Calvin can fly. "
FROM RAP STAR TO MOVIE STAR…TO NBA STAR
"My first dream, besides rapping, was playing basketball, maybe in the NBA," says Lil Bow Wow. "I wasn't really interested in the whole movie thing. "
While Schultz, Josephson and Heller were confident that Lil Bow Wow was Calvin Cambridge, the young star at first had some doubts. "In almost everything I do," says Bow, "I just go with the flow, so I knew that once I got into the whole acting thing, I could do a good job. So I put my all into it. '
Lil Bow Wow's developing acting talent impressed the filmmakers and fellow cast members, but it was his skill as a basketball player that makes the character of Calvin Cambridge complete. Producer Barry Josephson says, "There's no doubt that if Bow hadn't had the skills coming in to the movie, I don't think it would look as good as it does. "
The film's basketball coordinator, Reggie Theus, enjoyed working with Bow. "He's a great listener and soaked up everything I could give him about basketball and the NBA," says Theus. "He has to do some incredible things in this movie and he wanted to make sure that everything he did was right and true to form. I had to keep reminding myself that I was dealing with a fourteen year old kid. But after just a few minutes with him you understand why he's been so successful in everything he's done. And he handles the ball better than any fourteen year old I've ever seen. "
Morris Chestnut previously had seen Bow Wow play, and knew he had some basketball skills. "We played together at a celebrity game at the Forum," Chestnut says, "and I remember thinking if I live to be a hundred and three I'll never have his basketball talent. " But the veteran actor also knew that playing for fun with friends and playing for real in front of cameras and crew - and making it look real - could be an entirely different thing. Director John Schultz shared that concern.
"It's really hard when the cameras are rolling and all the people are watching, to actually make the shot under pressure," he says. "But Bow seemed to thrive in that environment. " Schultz remembers one scene in particular. "Bow shoots a three-pointer - an actual NBA three-pointer - with the camera rolling. Nothing but net! And he did it again on the second take! Saved me a half day of shooting!"
High praise indeed. But only Bow Wow's NBA co-stars could provide the full perspective on the teen's basketball potential. Seattle Supersonics star Gary Payton: "He's got game, he's got potential. I'll be retiring just about the time he's ready to come into the league and he can take my position. "
And San Antonio Spurs superstar center David Robinson praises Bow's skills, but with this caveat. "He'd struggle a little bit in the NBA with his size, you know," says the Admiral. "But with those special shoes, you never know. "
Picture this incredible scenario: Fourteen year old, four foot, eight inch Calvin Cambridge takes a jump ball away from Alonzo Mourning, battles for a loose ball with Gary Payton - and wins, takes a charge from Chris Webber and gets the foul, slam dunks over David Robinson, and out talks Jason Kidd. For LIKE MIKE, these NBA All-Stars and some of their colleagues jumped at the chance to let Lil Bow Wow take them to school on the basketball floor.
The hoopsters' appearances in LIKE MIKE point to the impressive collaboration between the production and the NBA in making the film a showcase of some of the best players in the league.
"The NBA's been a great partner on this picture," states producer Peter Heller. "To allow us to shoot during their All-Star break, one of the biggest media events of the year, was unbelievable. " The message of the film: a young boy fulfilling his dreams partially through the help of the NBA, certainly had a positive impact on the league and their decision.
Another factor in the production's favor was the relationship between the world of hip-hop, which Lil Bow Wow inhabits, and the NBA. With players like Allen Iverson cutting rap records, the association between Bow Wow and the league seemed natural.
Director John Schultz was impressed with the on-set cooperation he received from arguably the ten best basketball players in the world. "Every single player we worked with had a great attitude," marvels Schultz. "They all quickly 'got' the idea of the movie and were more than willing to be 'schooled' by Calvin Cambridge. They knew exactly how to poke fun at themselves. "
To a man, the players themselves all seemed to enjoy their brief stint as movie stars and were also impressed with the positive message the film puts out to kids. "A lot of times athletes and entertainers don't really understand the impact you have on kids' lives," says San Antonio Spurs star David Robinson. Says Sacramento Kings star Chris Webber: "I thank everyone on LIKE MIKE for giving me a chance to be in this movie and for the chance to maybe help make a difference in some young person's life. "
Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning likens Calvin Cambridge's dreams with his own as a young boy. "Dreaming helps build a little confidence and establishes hope for kids. They're confronted with so many obstacles in life and you want to make sure to keep your dreams alive.
As for the acting, David Robinson speaks for all the players. "This stuff is harder than you think it is. I'm not gonna quit my day job!"
ABOUT THE CAST
LIL BOW WOW (Calvin Cambridge), who makes his motion picture debut in "Like Mike," may be the most successful teen musical sensation since Michael Jackson. His debut album, "Beware of Dog," sold over two million copies in the United States and the album's first single, "Bounce With Me," hit number one on both the Rap and R&B charts. On his sophomore release, "Doggy Bag," Bow Wow again collaborated with his mentor Jermaine Dupri and the first single from that CD, "Thank You," is dedicated to his many fans.
Bow Wow's 2001 Scream Tour sold out all across the country, and he opened the 2001 Grammy Awards, performing with Madonna. In addition, he is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "youngest solo rapper to ever hit #1.
Expanding upon his amazing career as a recording artist - and now as a motion picture star -- Bow Wow will launch his own line of kids' clothing called "Lil Bow Wear. "
MORRIS CHESTNUT (Tracey Reynolds) is best known for his roles in such films as "The Brothers," opposite Bill Bellamy and D. L. Hughley, "The Best Man," for which he received a NAACP Image Award nomination, and John Singleton's "Boyz In the Hood," his motion picture debut in the role of doomed football star Ricky Baker.
Other starring roles include the Showtime feature "The Killing Yard," opposite Alan Alda, "Screen Gems' "Two Can Play That Game," the independent feature "Scenes of the Crime," "G. I. Jane," "Under Siege II: Dark Territory," and the recently completed "Half Past Dead," opposite Ja' Rule and Steven Seagal.
He has appeared in television in the series "ER" and "C-16," and his production company, DMI, has recently signed a two picture deal with Mandalay.
EUGENE LEVY began his career on the acclaimed comedy series "SCTV," starring for eight seasons and portraying a gallery of memorable characters, including Earl Camembert, Bobby Bittman, Alex Trebel and Stan Schmenge. Other television credits include "Hiller and Diller," "Mad About You," "The Drew Carey Show," "Billy Crystal's Don't Get Me Started," "Bride of Boogedy," "The Last Polka," "The Enigma of Bobby Bittman" (which he also wrote and directed), "Maniac Mansion" (which he produced), and Showtime's "Sodbusters" (which he co-wrote and directed). He recently starred in Fox television's new series "Greg the Bunny. "
On screen, Levy is perhaps best known as the go-with-the-flow dad in "American Pie and American Pie 2. " He has co-starred in Christopher Guest's "Best of Show" and "Waiting for Guffman," sharing writing credits on both films. His film credits also include "Almost Heroes," "Father of the Bride 2," "Multiplicity," "Once Upon A Crime" (which he also directed), "Stay Tuned," "Armed and Dangerous," "Club Paradise," "Splash," "National Lampoon's Vacation" and "Running. "
JONATHAN LIPNICKI (Murph) made a memorable motion picture debut at the age of five opposite Tom Cruise in the box office hit "Jerry Maguire," a role which garnered him the "1996 Best Child Performer of the Year" from the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
His film success continued with the role of George Little in Columbia Pictures' "Stuart Little," a role he will reprise in this summer's sequel "Stuart Little 2. " He was most recently seen in the feature "The Little Vampire," based on the best selling books by author Angela Sommer-Bodenburg.
On television, Jonathan appeared as the younger son on the "Jeff Foxworthy Show" and had a starring role in the CBS series "Meego. "
CRISPIN GLOVER (Bittleman) has appeared in over 20 feature films including "Racing With the Moon," "Friday the 14th, Part IV," "Back to the Future," "At Close Range," "The River's Edge," "Twister," "Wild at Heart," "Gilbert Grape," "Crime and Punishment," "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," "The People vs. Larry Flynt," "Nurse Betty" and "Charlie's Angels. "
ROBERT FORSTER (Coach Wagner) made his motion picture debut in 1966 in "Reflections in a Golden Eye," co-starring with Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, and followed that performance with a starring role in Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool. " Forster starred in several television series including the noir "Banyon" and "Police Squad," and had well-received roles in small films such as "Avalanche" and "Delta Force. "