A former hoops star from Brooklyn has claimed that director Spike Lee has failed to give him proper credit or compensation for being the inspiration for the 1998 film, He Got Game, according to a New York Daily News report.
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Maurice Ballard, now 37, spent part of his childhood in the Marlboro Houses in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn.
Ballard claims his life story was the basis for the film which told the story of an incarcerated father’s (played by Denzel Washington) attempt to shorten his sentence by persuading his estranged teenage son (Boston Celtics forward Ray Allen) to play basketball at a specific college.
Citing Allen’s character, Ballard explained:
“I want the people of the world knowing that I am Jesus Shuttlesworth.”
Ballard alleges that Earl Smith, an employee of Spike Lee’s production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, and promised Ballard that he’d get credit and appropriate payment for inspiring the film’s plot.
However, Smith and Lee completely deny that any such deal was made, asserting that his film was made from an original screenplay. Lee even has said that he’s never heard of Ballard.
Lee told the Daily News:
“It’s just another example of what happens in this industry all the time of someone saying, ‘They stole my idea.’”
In addition, Ballard claimed that he gave Lee associate Butch Robinson audio tapes several months before filming of He Got Game started. Ballard also said he was on set regularly and that, “Everyone knew it was my story.”
Ballard said he’s waited so long to seek credit because he was trying to avoid protect Lee. Ballard’s father, George Ballard, who died in 2009, was so well-connected in prison that he could have had people intimidate Lee into compensating the family, according to the former basketball star.
Ballard, who now lives in California, said he might seek legal action if he can find an attorney to represent his case.
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Brett Johnson is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer and the founder of the music and culture blog VeryArtistical.com.