Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Kyrie Irving is hoping for a big screen slam dunk.
Sources tell Variety that Temple Hill Entertainment has acquired the feature film rights to Irving’s “Uncle Drew” Pepsi commercials. “Skiptrace” scribe Jay Longino is set to write the script and Irving is attached to reprise the role of Drew.
Temple Hill’s Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, and John Fischer will produce the film, described as a love letter to basketball. The original Pepsi Max advertisements showed Irving, in full make-up, playing a 70-plus-year-old man, Drew, who would show up to pick-up basketball games and school kids half his age, while also reminiscing about how the game used to be played.
Fischer was a big fan of the online shorts and showed them to Bowen thinking they could possibly turn it into a movie. But it was Longino’s pitch that really got them excited about pursuing the rights for a feature film.
“Marty and I had recently sold a pitch to Fox 2000, so he and John reached out and asked if I was interested in bringing them a take,” Longino told Variety. “Looking back, I think I tried to play it cool with them on the phone and told them that I’d think about it. But the truth is, I was pretty fired up. As both a former player and a die-hard fan, this truly is a dream project for me.”
Described as “Blues Brothers” in the pick-up basketball world, Longino’s pitch shows Drew and his old squad on the legendary Rucker Park basketball court in Harlem. Years later Drew is talked into returning to the courts to compete in a tournament and goes on a road trip to round the old squad up to play.
Longino said he took inspiration from the commercials and began building a story that he hoped would make people excited, but also hopefully “inspire them to not let things like their age, or their size, or their past failures limit what they’re capable of accomplishing.”
“Kyrie and the team of people behind them — guys like Marc Gilbar and Lou Arbetter at Pepsi — did an incredible job of creating a character and a world that people responded to almost instantaneously,” Longino said. “There’s an old Nike commercial that talks about how many shots Michael Jordan missed in his career. He’s obviously remembered for all of the game-winners he made but the reality is he missed 26 of them. That commercial has always stuck with me and its theme is certainly present throughout the script.”
Longino is no stranger to the game — he played professionally in Mexico and for a short time in the U.S. in the now-defunct USBL league. Longino went on to add that he sees elements from films like “The Color of Money” and “Hoosiers” as inspirations for where he plans to take the script.
Pepsi also was game for Longino and Temple Hill’s idea for the movie, so much so that they are planning to fully fund development of the project while producers begin packaging the elements to take out to studios. As for Irving, winning another championship with Cavaliers is still his top priority. But Longino said has still taken the time to give his input on where he would like the character to go.
“We’ve sat down together twice in the last few months. He knows the character inside and out, and just being around him when he has all the makeup on has been really informative for me,” Longino said. “And he’ll definitely be chiming in on what he thinks is working in the script and what isn’t.”
In terms of an NBA presence outside of Irving, Longino added that the plan all along — once the rights were secured — is that plenty of stars pop up throughout the film.
“I can’t name names just yet but if you’re a fan of the NBA, both its past and its present, you should leave with a pretty big smile on your face,” Longino said.
While the Jackie Chan action film “Skiptrace” is Longino’s biggest studio to be released to date, the scribe has been busy lining up development deals over the past year. His graphic novel “Son of Shaolin” was acquired by Sony with Longino writing and exec producing with Dwayne Johnson eyeing the lead role. He also sold the pitch “Lao-Wai” to Fox 2000 with Jamie Linden on board to direct. He has also partnered with manager Bernie Cahill at ROAR to form small comic company Size 13 Comics. They are currently in production on their first four titles with another four planned for release in 2018. He is repped by Verve and ROAR.
Watch “Uncle Drew” chapter one below: