He also had to deal with gambling-related headlines ensnaring the estimable likes of Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas. In 2007, a public relations fire had to be doused in the case of Tim Donaghy, a veteran referee who bet on games he was working (the subject of a much less-heralded recent feature film, “Inside Game”).
In “Uncut Gems,” Sandler as Ratner even assures a menacing creditor that the Celtics are a lock because the refs, and by extension the league, prefer Boston to win — a conspiratorial cliché the league has been fighting forever.
But at least on the wider cultural embrace and potential revenues of legalized sports betting, Stern softened. Adam Silver, who succeeded Stern when he retired in 2014, made it a priority for the league.
While N.B.A. players have long enjoyed relationships with Hollywood, most roles have been cartoonish or comic, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s cameo in “Airplane” (1980), James’s sidekick casting in “Trainwreck” (2015) or Michael Jordan in “Space Jam” (1996). Ray Allen was cheered for his understated performance as Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee’s “He Got Game” (1998), about the ethical challenges of college basketball recruiting.
But for a sport long trending and bending with the rhythms of youth culture, “Uncut Gems” is a tense, spiritual partnership, though the N.B.A. had no involvement in the film. The basketball language is far from generic. In Garnett, the Safdies — who specialize in exposing slice-of-life dark underbellies — fittingly landed the edgiest of recent N.B.A. superstars, even if the role was originally written a decade ago for Amar’e Stoudemire (who was then a Knick, of course).
Josh Safdie even recalled attending a Sabbath dinner with Stoudemire when the now-retired power forward was exploring what he believed to be Jewish ancestral roots. But Stoudemire’s career succumbed to injury, and not long after along with it went whatever positive vibes the franchise had in the period “Uncut Gems” is set. A couple of references to the Knicks tend to befit the punch line they have become in today’s N.B.A.
Sandler at least did his part for the failed resurrection. Reprising his Opera Man spoof on “Saturday Night Live” last spring, he bellowed, in verse: “Just wait till Durant comes to the Knicks. Please. Please, Kevin. And bring Kyrie.”