Sports Nut

The Life of an NBA Body Double

It’s not all one-on-one with LeBron and strip horse with Anna Faris.

LeBron James as himself and Bill Hader as his best friend, Aaron, in Trainwreck.

Photo courtesy Universal Pictures

“Watch the shooter.”

From the Cleveland suburbs to Rucker Park and the Middle East, those are the first words Brian Kortovich hears whenever he steps on a basketball court. The 6-foot guard has a flashy handle and smart floor management, but what has always distinguished Kortovich is his shooting.

Kortovich can drain buckets from all over the court—even his half-court attempts look effortless before splashing the net. “I’m not Steph Curry, but we have similar games,” he says.

Kortovich’s shooting skills helped him lead his junior college team in three-pointers, land a Division I scholarship at Manhattan College, and earn the playground nickname “Smokin’ Aces.” But they weren’t worth more than a cup of Powerade at the various NBA training camps and summer leagues he’s attended over the years. While he has struggled to realize his NBA dreams, Kortovich has found another lucrative career that has matched him up against some of the greatest basketball players on Earth: that of a Hollywood body double.

The notion of using athletes as body doubles is not a radical one. Even if they are only featured in the background, directors want actors who can actually dunk a basketball or throw a spiral when the scene calls for it—and not every Hollywood star has those skills. What set Kortovich apart—and put him in the gym across from LeBron James in his latest film, Trainwreck, which opens on Friday—is that magic shot.

Kortovich’s Hollywood career started in 2010 when he was playing in the legendary Entertainers Basketball Classic tournament at Harlem’s Rucker Park and one of the tournament’s coaches told him about a prospective gig. “Someone had hit him up about some white ball players for an upcoming film,” says Kortovich. The movie was Just Wright, a rom-com starring Common as a fading basketball star and Queen Latifah as his physical therapist and love interest.

Kortovich thought he was a shoo-in, but when he showed up to the audition, the gym was packed with about 300 players and some of NYC’s best hoops talent.

Kortovich wondered how to stand out amid the high-fliers and dribbling wizards. “I realized I am just going to do what was best for me,” he says, “which meant shoot every time I touched the ball.” At one point, Kortovich made 15 straight long-range jump shots, and was quickly pulled off the court by Mark Ellis, the project’s sports coordinator. “He asked what my name was, which I told him,” says Kortovich. “He said, ‘No, you’re the shooter. You’re the guy that doesn’t miss.’ ”

As an extra, Kortovich ran point for a fictional version of the Miami Heat against the Common-led fake New Jersey Nets, throwing Dwyane Wade ally-oop lob passes.

A year later when Ellis reached out to him again, Kortovich didn’t even need to audition. He did, however, need to bulk up to play Chris Evans’ body-double in What’s Your Number? in order to pass for the muscular Evans. “They told me I had to gain at least six pounds in [a] few days,” says Kortovich, who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to make weight before filming a strip horse scene with Anna Faris in the Boston Garden.

“I had to wear something like [a] thong-like jock strap for the scene, and I texted my mom a photo,” says Kortovich. “She didn’t know what the film was about, and she said, ‘What are you filming, a porno?’ ”

His NBA dream still wasn’t paying the bills—stints overseas in France, Israel, and Kuwait and at home in the NBA’s D League had yielded little more than a few tryouts—so the acting gigs were lifelines. He made a flat rate for each film—around $8,000 for eight days of shooting—and the residuals from networks like TBS and HBO paid even more than that.

An Achilles tear and the subsequent rehab sidelined both his playing and acting careers for nearly two years, and it wasn’t until last summer that he finally felt healthy enough to field another gig. Trainwreck, which is directed by Judd Apatow and written by and starring Amy Schumer, features Kortovich as a body-double for Bill Hader, whose game is unfit for even the lowest of rec leagues.

Kortovich asked Ellis details about the scene he’d be filming and was told he’d be playing LeBron James one-on-one: Hader’s character is a sports physician whose most notable client is the Cleveland Cavaliers star.

During the shoot, Kortovich was more nervous to perform in front of Schumer and Apatow than James, whom he had actually played pick-up against way back in high school. A pop-in visit by Chris Rock and Paul Rudd only added to the pressure.

After the three-minute rehearsal, though, it was clear Kortovich and James’ body double Jason Boone had nailed the scene. “LeBron started clapping, telling us how dope it was, and that helped both Jason and I relax,” says Kortovich.

Since James and his entourage had arrived late, the shoot was behind schedule, and Apatow instructed Kortovich to start warming up. Kortovich began hitting shot after shot with a range that extended well beyond the gym’s three-point line.

After he says he made the 40th shot in a row, he realized the gym had gone silent—everyone, including a stretching James, was watching him shoot. “When I finally missed, everyone started clapping,” says Kortovich. “Jason was standing near LeBron and his boys, and he said LeBron said out loud, ‘That dude can shoot. Who the fuck is this guy?’ ”

When Kortovich took off the wig he wore to play Hader during a break, James recognized him. While they were catching up, Kortovich challenged James to a shooting contest, jokingly betting James a steak dinner to whoever could hit a best of five from the NBA’s three-point arc.

James laughingly demurred: “Man, I just saw you shoot. I am not doing that.”