Created by Stephen Levinson, ‘Ballers’ is an HBO sports comedy–drama show that revolves around the inner lives of football players and their relationship with the intricacies of the business. Following former NFL star player Spencer Strasmore’s retirement from the game, the show records his venture into becoming a financial manager for NFL players. Partnering up with an experienced advisor Joe Krutel, Spencer uses his old connections to expand his business, preaching the importance of financial security for athletes. As the show progresses, it delves into numerous different storylines, presenting the experiences of former and current football players.
The show ran for five seasons and became an instant fan favorite among different groups of audiences. The show features notable performances from several actors, including the lead Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John David Washington, and Rob Corddry. Through a diverse range of characters, the show showcases several different walks of life while maintaining a light-hearted, comedic center. Although the ‘Ballers’ presents a realistic portrayal of NFL stardom and its aftermath, how much truth is there to the show? Let’s find out!
Is Ballers a True Story?
No, ‘Ballers’ is not based on a true story. While the show’s basis in the world of football and exploration of athletes’ careers within it is clearly inspired by the real world, none of the characters or events in the show have a direct correlation with reality. As such, the plotlines and character arcs depicted by the show’s narrative are works of fiction penned by the creative team.
Nevertheless, given the series’ keen observation of this world and the dissection of different players’ experiences within the industry, it would have been impossible for the story to deliver an engaging tale without a footing in reality. For instance, the show’s jumping point, Spencer Strasmore’s decision to become a manager after his retirement from the field, presents a narrative we have seen play out a few times in the real world.
Chafie Fields, an ex-NFL player who became a sports agent after bidding the field adieu, serves as the most common comparison people often draw for Spencer. In addition, several other athlete-turned-managers, such as Bill Duffy, Tory Dandy, and Jason Fletcher, also provide real-life connections to Spencer’s character and his professional career.
Likewise, one can draw connections between several other characters, like Ricky Jerret, Vernon Littlefield, and Charles Greane. Even though these characters can be linked to some real-life personalities because of certain character traits or storylines, the connections are only fleeting and insubstantial. Still, through these roots in reality, the show is able to showcase the real-life issues surrounding NFL players and other athletes in general.
According to Sports Financial Literacy Academy, the “Athlete vulnerability issue” is a real financial problem that countless individuals face. Due to the nature of their employment, athletes often suffer from monetary instability following their retirement, which comes sooner for them than other people. Statistically, 78% of all NFL players are bankrupt and remain unemployed. Similarly, 25% of them encounter financial difficulties in the first two years of their retirement.
As the storyline in ‘Ballers’ progresses, the show addresses this same issue, highlighting the significant damage that financial inadequacy can cause for athletes. As such, a crucial feature of the show provides a reflection of a real-world problem found within the NFL and other sports leagues as well.
Furthermore, the show’s portrayal of its cast of characters and their interpersonal relationships also informs a vital part of its authenticity. Given the enigmatic air surrounding athletes, especially NFL stars, ‘Ballers’ essentially provides a glimpse into their regular life, infusing them with relatable features to pull the audience in. “It’s [‘Ballers’ is] a peek behind the curtain of how that world [the sports world] works,” said Rob Corddry, discussing the same in a conversation with The Guardian. “You read the articles about this deal or that deal, and you don’t picture the drama that goes into every little number.”
Likewise, Vernon Littlefield’s actor Donovan W. Carter shared his own connection to the show and how it reminded him of his experiences as a former football player. In an interview with The Sportster, the actor said, “With Omar Benson Miller’s character Charles, you get to see his transition from leaving the game. It was kind of similar to when I left the game, and I have to figure out what I’m going to do.”
Through these accounts, we can gather that ‘Ballers,’ though not a true story, stays true to the industry it represents. The series, as a comedy, blows things out of proportion at times and even magnifies the grit and glitz behind the profession. Yet, the story possesses a certain level of authenticity that viewers have long since come to enjoy. Ultimately, the show is not based on true events and only takes inspiration from the world of football within which its story takes place.
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