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Movie that finished shooting before Bryant's arrest mirrors his case

August 14, 2003|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

By now, the story is well-known. A respected NBA superstar has his seemingly perfect life turned upside down after a woman accuses him of rape.

Kobe Bryant is living it.

Dale Davis could profit from it.

In a remarkable instance of life imitating art, NBA veteran Davis came up with the idea and used his own money to produce the movie "Playas Ball," a fictitious story that mirrors Bryant's sexual assault case.

The independent film wrapped up shooting in Los Angeles in February -- five months before the Laker guard was charged with felony sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in Colorado.

It wasn't long after Bryant's arrest became national news that the makers of "Playas Ball" realized its uncanny connection to their project.

"I was just amazed," said Jennifer Harper, the film's writer and director. "We were calling each other like, 'Can you believe the timing of this?' "

Even more extraordinary, Harper said Bryant was the model for the lead character, played by actor Allen Payne.

"In rehearsals, Allen Payne asked, 'What athlete is this based on?' " Harper said. "I said, 'Just think of Kobe Bryant. He's loved by everybody. He has all the endorsements. That's who this character is.' "

The similarities between "Playas Ball" and Bryant's case could prove advantageous for the movie, which recently completed post-production work but has yet to find a buyer for distribution.

Davis is said to be entertaining offers and intends to have the film sold before he returns to the Portland Trail Blazers to start his 13th season.

As executive producer, Davis financed the movie for less than $1 million through World Ain't Right (W.A.R.) Entertainment, his Atlanta-based company that has film and music divisions.

Davis said "Playas Ball" is based on a side of NBA life that goes largely unnoticed by the public -- how high-profile athletes can be exploited because of their wealth and fame.

"It happens to athletes in general, entertainers in general," he said. "Sometimes these are the things you have to go through if you have money, and the extent some people will go through to try and get it.

"Being in the NBA, you see a little bit of everything. You hear the stories, and you're in that lifestyle. From an entertainment aspect, it made sense to me to try to put that in movie form and see if we could get an audience."

Davis said he doesn't want to exploit Bryant's situation to gain publicity for his movie, but he predicted the film would make "a huge statement" in light of the sexual assault charge filed against one of the NBA's most popular players.

"No one is perfect, [but] I don't think he did it," Davis said of Bryant. "Knowing him and knowing what he stands for, it just doesn't make sense.

"Everybody has their opinion, but if I'm a betting man, I say [the charges] are not true."

"Playas Ball" refers to the party held during NBA All-Star week that attracts many of the stars of professional sports and hip-hop music.

In a scene that is likely to induce laughter from viewers, a woman at the party wonders aloud if Bryant will show up. Her friend replies, "Well, who's that?" and is admonished for not knowing the Laker All-Star.

The movie's main character, Cedric Tinsley, is a 27-year-old NBA superstar who is described in a press kit as "handsome, adored by millions, talented, rich and preparing to propose to his beautiful live-in girlfriend, a professional model." His team and the city he plays in are never mentioned.

Days after Tinsley signs a multimillion-dollar shoe deal, a woman he claims he doesn't know serves him with a paternity suit. (Coincidentally, Bryant was arrested only days after he signed a shoe deal with Nike worth about $45 million.)

Tinsley begins losing support from his friends after DNA testing shows he is the father. The mother of the child threatens to go to the media with claims that he raped her unless Tinsley agrees to a substantial out-of-court settlement.

Tinsley's life spirals out of control, leading to a family tragedy, before a surprise ending reveals the truth behind his dilemma.

"The movie has a very happy ending," said Harper, a first-time director. "There are messages throughout the movie in terms of responsibility."

In the film, the Playas Ball is given by the leading hip-hop recording artist as a fund-raiser to launch a mentoring foundation. NBA players Scottie Pippen and Derek Anderson make cameo appearances and talk about the importance of having mentors.

The largely African American cast is headed by Payne, who has gained a following through his roles in such movies as "New Jack City" and "The Perfect Storm." The film also stars Elise Neal as Summer Twitty, Tinsley's publicist and a rival for his affections.

Davis, who has other film and music projects in the works, said he was glad to give so many African Americans, particularly women, chances to work on "Playas Ball."

The film's writer-director, producer and casting director are all black women.

"It's fun for me," Davis said. "With the exception of Magic [Johnson], no athlete has really gotten into developing music and film projects. No one has really had that formula yet. We're really in a great position to break that barrier."

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