As we introduced on Tuesday, the legendary Russian acting teacher Constantin Stanislavski asked new students the following question before allowing them to grace his stage: “Did you come here to serve art, and to make sacrifices for its sake, or to exploit your own personal ends?” In determining the greatest acting performances by professional athletes of all time, we considered this and many other questions: Does the athlete possess both the brawn and the tenderness required to pull off the first interracial sex scene to appear in a film? How do 14 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances translate to appearances on Little House on the Prairie? Is Hulk Hogan believable as Hurricane Spencer, the Hottest Hero of the High Seas?

And that’s when we stopped asking questions.

So without further ado, we give you the greatest thespian-athlete performances of all time.

5. JIM BROWN
Athletic: Halfback for the Cleveland Browns (1957-65)
Acting: Robert Jefferson in The Dirty Dozen (1967); Slammer in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988); Montezuma Monroe in Any Given Sunday (1999); Fireball in The Running Man (1987); appeared on TV shows CHiPs (1979, 1983), Knight Rider (1984), T.J. Hooker (1983-84) and The A-Team (1986)
Submission: 100 Rifles—first interracial sex scene, with Raquel Welch
Stanislavski’s Note: He took me there. I was terrified of being raped by a very large African-American man. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t. I was the opposite of terrified. And that, my dear friends, is acting.

4. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR
Athletic: Center for the Milwaukee Bucks (1969-75) and LA Lakers (1975-89)
Acting: Hakim in Game of Death (1978); himself in Airplane! (1980); appeared on TV shows Emergency! (1974), Diff’rent Strokes (1982, 1985), 21 Jump Street (1990) and Amen (1991)
Submission: Airplane!—Roger Murdock loses it on Joey in the cockpit
Stanislavski’s Note: The hardest character to play is yourself—particularly when yourself is grabbing a 10-year-old kid by the neck and berating his old man for accusing you of not hustling back on defense.

3. MERLIN OLSEN
Athletic: Defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams (1962-76)
Acting: Jonathan Garvey in Little House on the Prairie (1977-81); John Michael Murphy in Father Murphy (1981-83)
Submission: FTD flowers commercial
Stanislavski’s Note: A fine accent and an even finer beard. I’ll put in a good word with Downton Abbey.

2. RAY ALLEN
Athletic: Shooting guard with the Milwaukee Bucks (1996-2003), Seattle Supersonics (2003-07) and Boston Celtics (2007-present)
Acting: Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game (1998); Marcus Blake in Harvard Man (2001)
Submission: He Got Game
Stanislavski’s Note: I echo my friend Roger Ebert’s review of Allen: “This is a true rarity: an athlete who can act. Swoosh.”

1. CHUCK CONNORS
Athletic: First baseman for the Dodgers and Cubs (1949-1951)
Acting: The Big Country; Move Over Darling; Soylent Green; Dear Phoebe; Hey Jeannie!; The Loretta Young Show; Schlitz Playhouse; Adventures of Superman; Screen Directors Playhouse; Four Star Playhouse; Matinee Theatre; Cavalcade of America; Gunsmoke; Crossroads; The Gale Storm Show; West Point; The Millionaire; Tales of Wells Fargo; General Electric True Theater; Wagon Train; The Restless Gun; Murder She Wrote; Date with Angels; The Dupont Show with June Allyson; The Virginian; Night Gallery; beat out 40 actors for the lead on The Rifleman, portraying Lucas McCain, a widowed rancher known for his skill with a customized Winchester rifle
Award: “Athletes in Acting” Lifetime Achievement Award: Outstanding Lead Performance in a Television Series, The Rifleman
Submission: The Rifleman title sequence, “On the Brink”
Stanislavski’s Note: Bull’s-eye, sir.

—C.B.S.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • C. Brian Smith