Juancho Hernangómez is the breakthrough star of Jeremiah Zagar and Adam Sandler's Hustle.

Juancho Hernangómez hugs a basketball in the crook of her arm, in a black tank top.


Opening Portrait by Adam Glanzman
10 August 20222 min read


Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez) walks through a crowd of cheering people.

Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez)

As a first-round N.B.A. draft pick and World Cup Gold Medal winner, 26-year-old basketball star Juancho Hernangómez’s skills on the court are undeniable. Now he steps into a new arena as Adam Sandler’s co-star in the heartfelt film Hustle, in which Sandler plays a scout who puts everything on the line to get Hernangómez’s character, a young Spanish player named Bo Cruz, a spot in the N.B.A. “Acting was never my dream,” says the player-turned-actor. “I never expected to be here right now talking about a movie I did with Adam Sandler and LeBron James as the producers.” Though Hernangómez meets James on the court as competitors during the N.B.A. season, the film has brought the two together in a new way. “He says he’s proud of me and I’m doing a great job,” says Hernangómez. “At the premiere of Hustle, he hugged me for the first time. He knows who I am, and for me, that’s the thing I’m most proud of.” 


Jeremiah Zagar, Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez), and Kermit Wilts (Anthony Edwards) navigate a court.

Jeremiah Zagar, Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez), and Kermit Wilts (Anthony Edwards)

Hernangómez had much in common with his character, Bo Cruz — both are Spaniards with aspirations to play in the N.B.A. (a dream Hernangómez is living as a power forward for the Utah Jazz). But getting into character was something new. “My acting coach and I would meditate a lot to become Bo Cruz,” he says, adding that he’s incorporated the practice into his pre-game ritual. And his character’s also inspired a more corporeal change: “At some point I will get a tattoo of Never Back Down,”  he says, referencing the phrase that becomes  a mantra for Bo in the film, “and probably  a [movie] camera, or something for this period of my life that I am proud of.”


Dr. J and Jeremiah Zagar stand on a court decorated by a colorful mural.

Dr. J and Jeremiah Zagar

In the film, Hernangómez plays against familiar N.B.A. stars of the past and present including the legendary Dr. J, with whom Hernangómez shared a special scene that has stuck with him, even though it was cut from the final edit of the film. “We did a scene with Dr. J in the hotel room, and he told me the story about him and Larry Bird fighting. He even recorded a video for my dad. We got to spend time together, and I feel like I enjoyed that the most.”