"Ballers," the new HBO series that premieres Sunday night, inevitably has drawn comparisons to "Entourage," another young-male-fantasy offering from the network that featured guys being guys and gals often being decorative wallpaper.
But it bears a stronger resemblance to "Survivor's Remorse," the Starz show executive-produced by LeBron James that focuses on a young basketball player and his, well, entourage, including demanding, entitled family members.
Only in this case, the sport is football and the protagonist is not an up-and-comer but an old-timer adjusting to retired life while trying to work with distracted young athletes as a financial adviser and big-brother figure.
The fact the old-timer is Dwayne Johnson, in all his relentlessly charming, charismatic glory, helps the show be a mostly enjoyable, easily digestible bit of entertainment, though not exactly a groundbreaking one.
Adding to the verisimilitude are cameos by real-life NFL figures, including Don Shula, Larry Csonka and Giants receiver Victor Cruz, as well as the use of real NFL team names and logos, most prominently that of the Dolphins.
Interestingly, HBO decided to go ahead on that front without getting permission from the NFL.
The network said in a statement, "HBO is always mindful of other intellectual property owners, but in this context there is no legal requirement to obtain their consent."
The NFL declined to comment, but the league presumably is not thrilled about being portrayed in a show that features sex, nudity, profanity and drug use, and has its star popping pills and being examined for potential cognitive impairment.
Cruz's one scene in the fourth episode - the last one provided to critics for reviewing purposes - does have him in the presence of bikini-clad women on a yacht but not doing anything particularly naughty.
Asked after practice Thursday whether the scene was hard work, Cruz laughed and said, "A ton of hard work! Yeah, that was a good scene. I can't wait to see the show. It's going to be fun."
Cruz said of his role, "It's different for me. It's my first time working on that scale of television, and it was fun. They made it easy for me, all the staff and everyone on set made it easy. Obviously working with The Rock makes it easy as well. I had a blast. Hopefully they can work me into season two. We'll see how that goes."
In the episode provided to critics, Cruz mostly interacts with Johnson's co-star, Rob Corddry, but he said he does have one scene with Johnson in a later episode. (There are 10 episodes in total.)
Does Cruz hope to do more acting in the future?
"Yeah. It's one of my passions, so hopefully I can slowly work into it and then come post-career, who knows, maybe I'll be an actor one day," he said. "We'll see . . . When I was young or younger, at least, it always interested me. Now that I've been fortunate and blessed enough to have a platform to do it, we'll see how it goes."
The Rock went from pro wrestling to acting. Might that path appeal to Cruz after he is done with football?
"I'm not wrestling anybody, unless I'm out there wrestling for a loose football or a fumble," he said. "That's the only way I'm wrestling. I'll skip the middle portion of that."
"Entourage" veteran Stephen Levinson created "Ballers," whose crew includes passionate Giants fan Peter Berg, who directed the pilot and also plays the coach of the Dolphins.
With Tom Rock)