Before CAA formed its sports division in 2006, the combo of Hollywood and athletes was usually in the form of jocks-turned-actors.
That was never CAA’s chief goal with the new wing, and it’s a good thing: While sports icons have landed plenty of megabucks deals for their athletic skills and endorsement heft, few have managed to parlay their athletic prowess into an onscreen career since the 1930s and ’40s, when skater Sonja Henie and swimmers Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams became stars.
Jim Brown, Fred Dryer and Alex Karras were among the few jocks to have sustained acting work, while many athletes went the Joe Namath route: a few high-profile starring vehicles, but not much after that. More recently, pro wrestling stars like Duane Johnson have had healthy film careers (though some might call the WWE more of an entertainment biz to start with).
Even at the height of his playing career, basketball’s Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t leverage his star quality into a hit film (Disney’s pricey O’Neal starrer “Kazaam” earned less than $19 million at the box office in 1996) — though Michael Jordan’s “Space Jam” minted north of $90 million for Warners.
LeBron James is the rare sports client these days who seems to have bigscreen potential. The CAA Sports client is being positioned with pic prospects in mind. CAA packaged the film “Ballers” with Universal Pictures as a vehicle for the hoops icon and surrounded the athlete with a lineup of its Hollywood clients, including producer Brian Grazer.