Actor Mark Wahlberg hoops it up with the Bulls

In Chicago to shoot the latest installment of “Transformers”, actor Mark Wahlberg talks about his recent visit to the Berto Center for a spirited game of three-on-three, the dominance of the ‘90s Bulls, and whether or not this year’s team has what it take

Mark Wahlberg is a Boston kind of guy. It’s the city where he was born and raised. You can hear it in his accent. And, as important as anything to him, he’s loyal to his teams—the Celtics, Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins.

But it’s understandable when a competitor like himself explains why he is willing to make an exception to that loyalty, showing his support on occasion for a team from outside of his beloved hometown.

“I’ve got my teams, but I can also appreciate greatness,” said Wahlberg. “I’m so happy that Derrick Rose is back to see what [the Bulls] can do. I’m excited. I just love the game.”

Last Wednesday, Wahlberg brought three of his friends and colleagues to the Berto Center for a high stakes game of two-on-two.

In Chicago for a few weeks to film “Transformers: Age of Extinction”, the fourth installment in the series, the 42-year old Wahlberg sounded not unlike any other weekend warrior when asked of his visit to the team’s practice facility: “We’re crazy old men and we came over here to play a little game.”

As it turned out, they enjoyed much more than a two-on-two matchup. When Wahlberg and his crew took the court, his manager called over one of the onlookers, Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, and asked if he’d play on his team against Wahlberg. Butler said he was in, so Wahlberg countered by adding Chicago rookie Erik Murphy to his side.

As Bulls rookie Tony Snell, Assistant General Manager Randy Brown, and later Joakim Noah among others watched, they went at it, playing three-on-three in a full court setting. It was a competitive effort by all involved—even Butler and Murphy picked up the pace a bit once they saw how hard Wahlberg and the others were playing—but in the end, it was Wahlberg’s team which claimed a narrow victory, in part due to some clutch shooting from behind the arc by the Hollywood A-lister.

Though Butler took to Instagram to claim his dominance over Wahlberg, he admitted his opponents “won the battle but we’d win the war” if they made it a series. There were no hard feelings, though—Wahlberg was so impressed with Butler that he later reached out to invite him to the Transformers set for a day. Butler joined him on Saturday, when he ate breakfast with Wahlberg in his personal trailer before watching filming in Chicago’s South Loop.

Wahlberg said he greatly enjoyed his Bulls experience and hopes to return to the Berto Center for another workout if his schedule allows.

“Just to be able to come to the facility and see the coach and hang out, I’ve always been a big Bulls fan,” said Wahlberg. “I was certainly a huge Jordan fan and Michael is a friend of mine. He’s been so kind to my family and my kids.”

Mark Wahlberg sits on the court at the Berto Center
“I think you guys are strong,” said Wahlberg of the Bulls. “Making the run you made last year without Derrick Rose was remarkable. I think that with him coming back, he’s arguably the best player in the league and I put him up there with LeBron, definitely.”

At a time when Jordan was coming back to basketball following his first retirement, Wahlberg was also involved with the sport, appearing in “The Basketball Diaries” as he made the transition from musician to actor in 1995.

And though he grew up watching Larry Bird and the Celtics, Wahlberg explained that he wasn’t bothered by Jordan’s Bulls winning title after title because he appreciated his greatness.

“I actually didn’t mind when they would beat the Celtics because Michael Jordan was just the greatest player of all time and one of the most charismatic guys,” said Wahlberg. “I loved [Dennis] Rodman and I loved [John] Paxson, and what a great guy he is. There were so many great teams and I certainly can’t deny greatness.”

“I was so pleased and so happy when Michael came back,” added Wahlberg. “It’s great to see that kind of talent at that level. I like to see champions win.”

Wahlberg knows a thing or two about being a champion, as in 2010 he played the lead role in “The Fighter”, a movie based on professional boxer Micky Ward’s unlikely claiming of the welterweight title. The film was nominated to receive an Academy Award for Best Picture. It was hardly the first time Wahlberg starred as a professional athlete—aside from his aforementioned role as a basketball player in “The Basketball Diaries”, he also was a football player in Invincible and a hockey player in “Four Brothers”.

“Whether it is music, entertainment or sports, everybody wants to do what the other guy is doing. The grass is always greener on the other side,” said Wahlberg. “I have an amazing career, but I always said if I could give it up to play professional [sports], even at a league minimum salary, I’d probably do that and give up my career in producing and starring in movies.

“It’s just one of those things,” Wahlberg continued. “But I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my career—I’ve made of point of doing it—to play an athlete in as many movies as possible, fulfilling my childhood dreams and fantasies that way.

“I’ve always taken pride in being athletic and modeled my career as an athlete would, trying to capitalize when I’m in my prime. So when I’m talking to a lot of these young kids and trying to give them advice, there are a lot of things I talk about. Some kids are just naturally gifted, but you have to be really focused and really disciplined if you’re playing at this kind of level.”

Wahlberg said he hasn’t spent a great deal of time in Chicago over the years as he mainly goes where his work takes him.

“But this is definitely a city that I could see myself just hanging out in,” said Wahlberg, who recently signed on to star in a remake of “The Gambler”. “The food is fantastic and the people are great. It’s a great sports town and there are so many great golf courses. My kids absolutely loved it.”

Based out of Los Angeles now and often found sitting courtside at Lakers or Clippers games, Wahlberg admits his children have grown up as fans of those teams. But he makes sure they carry on his Boston pride as well.

As for this season, though, Wahlberg likes the Bulls’ chances.

“I think you guys are strong,” said Wahlberg. “Making the run you made last year without Derrick Rose was remarkable. I think that with him coming back, he’s arguably the best player in the league and I put him up there with LeBron, definitely.”

When asked for an NBA Finals prediction, Wahlberg went with the Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder meeting with Chicago winning its seventh world championship.

“You guys will win it, but they’ll get their shot,” said Wahlberg. “Oklahoma City is going to be around for awhile. But I’d like to see you guys win it again.”

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