Real-Life Inspiration For 'Ballers' Lead Character

The Rock

Midway through the first episode of Ballers, former Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor started receiving texts.

In that HBO show, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays Spencer Strasmore -- a similarly mediagenic, former Dolphins pass rusher with a shaved head who also wore a number in the 90s.

“There is a lot of parallels,” Taylor told ThePostGame. "People drew that correlation immediately."

Friends, family members, current players and former teammates mistakenly thought the show was his life story, though Taylor insists the character is not based on him at all. ("I'm not getting royalties," he quipped.) Some even expressed surprise that he had become a financial advisor -- Strasmore's post-NFL career.

Taylor has watched every episode of the fictional Entourage-like show, which follows Strasmore as he guides NFL players through contracts and tries to rein in their hard-partying ways.

Jets linebacker Erin Henderson also regularly viewed Ballers, and so did many of his teammates, including linebacker Quinton Coples.

“Guys definitely watch it," said Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

Cardinals players, watched it, too, including wide receiver John Brown, defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker, linebackers Alex Okafor and Sean Weatherspoon and cornerback Patrick Peterson, and the show was a hot topic on the team during training camp.

Jason Taylor

Several NFL players -- notably wide receivers Antonio Brown, Victor Cruz and DeSean Jackson and defensive linemen Jared Odrick and Jason Pierre-Paul and linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who was in two hot tub scenes on a boat -- have made cameos.

Woodley called his gig "a great opportunity to get into acting," and it drew some envy -- and a lot of ribbing -- from his teammates.

"LaMarr," joked Campbell, a Pro Bowl defensive end, "he better get me on the show."

One of the show's writers is former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who declined to be interviewed.

"He knows what goes on in the locker room," said Peterson, a four-time Pro Bowler with 16 career interceptions.

Despite the involvement of the former Steeler on the show, some of the plots -- including a wide receiver mistakenly sleeping with his position mate's mother or a pass rusher getting blackmailed after appearing with hookers and cocaine during a party on a yacht -- may seem far-fetched.

But before the 2015 season was even underway, one player (Pierre-Paul) lost a finger as a result of a Fourth of July firecracker accident, and another (Jets quarterback Geno Smith) broke his jaw after getting sucker-punched by a teammate for not paying a $600 debt.

So are the plots really that outlandish?


One of the more salacious parts of Ballers involves the "funhouse,” a Playboy-like party mansion filled with women, drugs and where anything goes.

Ricky Jarret

"I don't know if that really exists," Campbell said, "but I wouldn't put it past anybody."

Taylor said that scenes involving women and cars are over the top.

"It's entertainment, so they glorify a lot of the sexy things," Taylor said. "That’s not life every day in the NFL by far."

But Ricky Jerret (played by Denzel Washington's son -- former Rams practice squader John David Washington) going to extreme efforts to purchase his desired jersey number rings true. Taylor also said Strasmore struggling with pain management and Vernon Littlefield (played by Donovan W. Carter) dealing with family members and hanger-ons wanting money are part of the NFL life.

"Vernon's best friend makes me cringe," said Okafor, the Cardinals' starting outside linebacker.

Strasmore’s advice to lease -- not buy a car -- because it’s a depreciating asset resembles what Ferguson heard during NFLPA meetings. And Strasmore having to loan $300,000 to Littlefield was another realistic scenario -- particularly during the 2011 lockout.

"I've heard of stuff like that," Weatherspoon said.

Henderson, who was out of football in 2014 before returning with the Jets this season, related to how Charles Greane (played by Omar Benson Miller) grapples with whether to retire from the NFL or pursue a job at a car dealership before eventually launching a comeback with the Dolphins.

"That is the mind-set of a lot people, that they can still go out there and do it and still want to do it,” Henderson said. “When you’re done with football … there's an adjustment period."

Omar Benson

Others identified with Greane as well, but Jerret was the real favorite among several players.

"I love him,” Weatherspoon said. “J.D. kills (it)."

Jerret is a constant source of drama. In an early episode, the Packers release Jerret after he punches a bar patron, who taunts him. As is often the case, according to players, the news reports ignore what predicated the assault.

“All you see on TV is that someone got in a fight," Rucker said, "but you don’t know what happened."

After signing with the Dolphins, Jerret arrives at Miami training camp wearing Middle Eastern gear and riding a camel. If Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians witnessed such a brazen act, he likely would send that player packing immediately.

"If I came in on a camel," said Cardinals tight end Darren Fells, "I'd probably leave on a camel."

Those unrealistic elements of Ballers draw the ire of Jets right guard Willie Colon, though he remains close with Mendenhall, for whom he blocked in Pittsburgh.

“It’s not real-life NFL," Colon said. "There's a lot of guys in the NFL that are not down in Miami partying on boats with models. There’s a lot of hard-working family men who are making enough just to get by because not everybody in the league makes $106 million."


After averaging 1.7 million viewers during its initial 10 episodes, Ballers has been renewed for another season.


"It's entertaining," Taylor said. "I know they're doing good numbers. It’s enjoyable."

About a year and a half ago, producers of Ballers discussed a consulting role with Taylor. Although nothing came to fruition, they remain in communication, and he could become involved in Season Two.

He and Johnson, who works out at the same Miami gym whenever he’s in town, are friendly. But Johnson never conferred with the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year to research the role. And despite the similarities between him and the character, Taylor said he was never offered the role of Strasmore.

"When you're Dwayne Johnson or the Rock or whatever, you kind of bring in a built-in audience," Taylor said. "He was well-cast to be Spencer Strasmore."

Though Johnson is believable as a former Dolphins defensive end, players remain mixed on the realism of Ballers as a whole.

"It’s a good show," Woodley said. "It’s kind of hard to say what's real and what's fake because every NFL player lives a different type of lifestyle … We all come from different backgrounds."

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-- Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.