Ballers Picks Up Where ESPN’s Playmakers Left Off

Playmakers was ESPN’s 2003 pro football drama who’s time, like many NFL players, was tragically cut short after only one season. A serialized ensemble in the vein of Any Given Sunday, Playmakers had everything you could want in a football tv show; hard hits, hard partying and Omar Gooding rocking cornrows.
Considering the ratings were higher than Demetrius Harris (Omar Gooding’s character who smokes crack before a game in the first episode) the move to cancel the show seemed like an attempt by ESPN to avoid angering the NFL.
Judging from the first episode of ‘Ballers’ HBO doesn’t share the same concerns that ESPN had, even though HBO holds the rights ‘Hard Knocks’. Ballers starts with the HBO disclaimer, AC Adult Content, AL Adult Language, V Violence and N for Nudity or as it was known to a 13 year old Sean Green, the pay channel grand slam. Associating fictional professional football teams with sex, drugs and acts of violence is one thing, ‘Ballers’ takes it to the next level by using actual official NFL logos without approval.
Ballers Lives Up To Its Namesake
Is there anything more baller than featuring the NFL’s intellectual property without expressed written consent? How about featuring active NFL players in cameos as themselves. Where Playmakers alludes to NFL players with their fictionalized counterparts, Ballers simply cast them.
Seeing Demetrius Harris cruise the town in a Bentley doesn’t compare to watching the Rock chastising DeSean Jackson for his recent lavish car purchase. Dwayne Johnson drops a people’s elbow worth of knowledge on DeSean and Antonio Brown pronouncing, “If it drives, flies, floats or fucks…lease it.”
Can’t Beat The Authenticity
The authenticity doesn’t lie only in the cameos but the realistic references gives Ballers an added edge that was the only glaring detraction from Playmakers. Instead of the home team being the Cougars (In Playmakers defense the show was created before the proliferation of the word cougar being used to describe attractive older women), they’re actually the Dolphins and they play at Sun Life stadium.
Instead of a joke about a made up character you get a joke about Tiki Barber retiring early. Instead of a generic joke about stat loving fans, you get Rob Corddry ripping on IDP (Individual Defensive Player) fantasy leagues. (Also a kudos is in order for the writing staff for doing a sports show set in Miami without using a ‘taking my talents to South Beach line’).
Entourage Of Professional Sports
Visually Ballers lives up to its name with super slick scenes, beautiful b-roll and a soundtrack that appeared to save no expense. It feels like a professional sports version of Entourage, and with good reason the shows share some of the same executive producers Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and Rob Weiss.
An Entourage feel also means having beautiful women crowbarred into every scene, leading to one of the episode’s funnier lines by hedonistic wide receiver Ricky Jerret who earnestly asks “should I grab some of these funeral hoes?”
Basketball and hockey are over and yet there still remains eighty long days until opening night of the NFL season. Of all the drugs featured in Playmakers and Ballers America’s strongest addiction may be to the league itself. The pilot of Ballers proves to be a more than sufficient methadone to help our country’s cravings until the fateful day in early September when we collectively come together to let the world know that, yes we are indeed ready for some football.

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