ORLANDO – During training camp last season, Moe Wagner, along with his brother Franz Wagner, took the court at the AdventHealth Practice Facility at Amway Center for a game of two-on-two with a pair of their Orlando Magic teammates.
After the brothers dusted the floor with the competition, Moe Wagner looked back at his defeated compatriots and asked them if they knew what they called that type of performance in German.
After a few seconds went by without a response, Wagner gave out the answer with a wide-stretched smile across his face: “An a**-kicking.”
That incident in a way sums up Moe Wagner. He’s hard-working, a bit of a trash talker, and gives his all to the game of basketball whether it’s in an offseason workout or in game action.
It’s also what makes his appearance in ‘Hustle’ – a basketball-centric film produced by and starring Adam Sandler on Netflix – so unique. Wagner plays a prospect named ‘Haas,’ who stars for Alba Berlin, a German professional basketball club. While that part has some basis in reality – Wagner played for the club from 2014-15 – the rest of his character’s makeup required him to almost completely deviate from his true traits.
For starters, Haas – unlike Wagner – was destined to go at the top of the draft. He’s also critiqued by Sandler’s character – Philadelphia 76ers scout Stanley Sugarman – for lacking heart and a great work ethic. Two qualities that would certainly never be attributed to Wagner.
“We joke around here that they needed a German (jerk) and they found one in me, so it’s a match made in heaven,” said Wagner. “That’s obviously a joke. There’s obviously some acting needed and it’s weird too. In (my) scene, you have to disagree with a coach that I’d just met (Sugarman) and I have to disagree with him and be mean to him and be arrogant and all that stuff, which is not really natural for me.”
Along with disagreeing with Sandler, Haas also struggles in the scene to guard Tobias Harris – who played himself in the film – and had to allow the Philadelphia power forward to repeatedly get the best of him without giving much of a response. While he sold the scene well, anyone who’s watched Wagner over the course of his Magic tenure would realize just how much acting must have been needed for the hard-nosed 25-year-old to put that on tape.
“That, not listening to your coach, not caring what your teammates say, that’s very uncomfortable to me in normal life,” said Wagner. “So, I hope I never get into that situation, for sure.”
While the character of ‘Haas’ may have been unnatural for Wagner, being on set was not. The 6-foot-11 forward explained that he’s always taken an interest in acting and had done internships on film sets when he was younger.
“I told my brother, and I told my family that it’s something I would like to do (again) in the future,” Wagner explained. “I had a great joy doing it. Obviously, my focus is on basketball. But if an opportunity ever comes up again, it’s definitely something I would love to do. Honestly, I’m not sure how my acting is. That scene doesn’t really translate. But I’m very interested and we’ll see how that goes.”
Among the many experiences he enjoyed was getting the opportunity to take the acting stage with Sandler, whose resume of blockbuster hits are too long to list.
“He’s a good dude,” said Wagner. “You could tell that was his playground. It was a dream for him to have all these basketball players around him, to be around basketball, (and) you could tell how much he loves basketball. He’s a really good guy and he’s really good at what he does.”
Along with Wagner – whose role in the movie was relatively small – there were a number of other cameos with Magic-related ties in the film. Shaquille O’Neal along with former Magic players Aaron Gordon, Harris, and Kenny Smith – among others – all have connections to Orlando. Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who had a front office position with the Magic in the late 1990s, was also in the movie.
‘Hustle’ is about a down on his luck basketball scout (Sugarman) discovering a once-in-a-lifetime player (Bo Cruz – played by Juancho Hernangomez) with a rocky past abroad. Sugarman takes it upon himself to bring the phenom to the United States without his team’s approval. Against the odds, they have one final shot to prove they have what it takes to make it in the NBA. The film is available to stream on Netflix.