HBO’s ‘Ballers’ has stolen the Vegas pro sports storyline

The Ballers gang hits the tables at Cosmo.
Courtesy HBO

Judging by the ratings for HBO’s Ballers—star Dwayne Johnson ‘grammed that the season three premiere on July 23 was the premium network’s best-performing half-hour show in more than six years—you already know what’s going on in the show. Somewhat struggling former NFL star Spencer Strasmore (Johnson) has a new objective—he wants to bring pro football to Las Vegas. What an idea!

Sunday night’s second episode (“Bull Rush”) was something of a condensed version of what Las Vegas has been through in the last 18 months as local officials negotiated the Raiders’ move from Oakland. A scene where The Rock’s character is golfing with the mayor (played by Cheryl Ladd!) feels like the show’s writers have simply been grabbing sound bites from local news articles.

Mayor/Charlie’s Angel: “It’s not easy convincing the taxpayers and the stadium committee to pay for something they see as the most expensive tourist trap on the planet.”

Spencer: “I can alter the perception of Vegas as Sin City … and what happens in Vegas doesn’t need to stay here.”

Mayor: “We made a fortune on that slogan. You want to change it?”

It’s all quite goofy, including the fact that the casino boss who might team up with Spencer to bring a team to town is played by Steve Guttenberg.

It’s always fun to watch Vegas onscreen. That golf course looks like Bali Hai, and the gang also spends time gambling at the Cosmopolitan and eating at Momofuku in this episode. But like almost every movie and TV show inevitably does, Ballers stumbles a bit in trying for authenticity. In order to prove to cowboy city councilman Bob Sawyer (played by Brett Rice and seemingly based on longtime local official Tom Collins) that he’s more local than tourist, Spencer goes off-Strip to a monster truck rally. And drives a monster truck. And crashes it. You know us crazy locals, always crashing our monster trucks.

Still, it should continue to be fun to watch the Ballers version of the Raiders-to-Vegas story. Maybe it’ll give us locals an idea of just how crazy this whole NFL thing is going to get.

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Brock Radke has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 15 years. He currently covers entertainment, music, nightlife, food ...

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