Trading Places

How the Sonics' Payton-Allen swap plays out on-screen.

For the last several days, Seattle hoop hawks have been inundated with a slew of cry-me-a-river Gary-Payton-for-Ray-Allen eulogies. But while there are few things more important in life than sports, there are still a few. And one of those is cinema. The real question isn't which team ended up with the better round-baller; it's who ended up with the better actor?

Ray Allen's thespian rep is formidable, thanks to his lead role as Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee's teenage hoop hysteria epic He Got Game, topped off by a semi-substantial supporting role in James Toback's Harvard Man. Allen was stellar in Game simply because he was freed up to play himself. And he played himself pretty well, which, contrary to popular opinion, isn't that easy to do (see: acting careers of O.J. Simpson, Hulk Hogan, and Keanu Reeves). Baby-faced Ray was in nearly every scene, holding his own against Denzel Washington, who played Allen's deadbeat daddy. In Harvard Man, Allen's delivery was decidedly monotone; but, shoot, he didn't have many lines, and Ivy League Ray did manage to tease the audience with an on-screen dorm-room threesome that was eerily similar to Jesus' decadent recruiting trip scene in Game. (One wonders whether this sort of sexual fantasia is a stipulation in Allen's film contracts.)

Payton's acting career has been far more pedestrian. But, as we all learned first thing in grade school, the tortoise ultimately beats the hare. To wit, Payton has had three big-screen roles, the highlight being his expert portrayal of Man Quizzing Derek in Prison in 1996's The Breaks, produced by his Oaktown 357 posse member Too Short. Although Payton had only three lines, the ultimate on-court shit talker did a damn fine job of quizzing Derek. Does his line of inquisition yield a confession? Of course not. But GP gets more done in two minutes of screen time than Phillip Michael Thomas managed in five seasons of Miami Vice.

Unlike silver snob Allen, thespian Payton has also appeared on the small screen, the highlight being his portrayal of Gary Payton on an episode of the beloved ABC comedy Hangin' With Mister Cooper. Payton, via his singular line to Mark Curry's perpetually cuckoo Mr. Cooper"Business as usual," said the Glovegave the episode the sort of heft and dramatic understatement it needed to rival The Cosby Show, if only for one night.

Ultimately, however, the real test of an athlete's thespian gravitas is whether or not his house has been featured on MTV's Cribs. Payton's has. Allen's hasn't. Who got game? Gary. Remember the Kingdome when the Mariners sucked, or Predator 2 without Schwarzenegger? That's what the Key will be like for the next five years. Dump on a stick.

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