Back in the mid-2000s, I played basketball with a group of young actors twice a month at Poinsettia Park in Hollywood. One of the players who appeared one Saturday happened to look a lot like Hayden Christensen, the actor who had recently played Anakin Skywalker in the new Star Wars film, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I asked the young ballplayer his name.
“Hayden,” he responded.
Oh shit. I was about to play pick-up ball with Darth Vader.
Mr. Christensen and I had similar skill sets, so when teams were selected, our mutual friends suggested that we go up against each other.
I became the chosen one. The one chosen to guard him.
Again, I stuck out my hand to ask him his name, as if I had routinely forgotten it. When he paused, looked up and caught my eyes, I almost felt like a Tusken Raider in the midst of my campsite being massacred by Anakin himself.
“Hayden, bro,” he said.
“I’m Zach,” I offered, meekly.
Our teams were quite competitive and evenly matched. In pick-up ball, I normally play fairly hard, upset if I don’t leave a court without a W. However, the entire afternoon, I wasn’t worried about who would win or lose…
All I worried about was whether or not I’d be able to score any points against a Jedi.
“Ball in,” Christensen pronounced, as if he was ready to get our entire team into a Sith Lord chokehold.
From the minute the game started, Hayden seemed larger than life. Sure, we were all actors (and shouldn’t have been intimidated by one of our own), but this was Anakin freaking Skywalker—he had his own lightsaber! He had a make-out scene with Natalie Portman for crying out loud! At the time, my only acting credits were a Taco Bell commercial and two lines on Sabrina the Teenage Witch…
I was horribly restless.
A couple of years earlier, I had auditioned for the role of Anakin Skywalker. (Actually, a lot of my friends had.) There is even a video of it on the internet. I never heard from George Lucas after my first read, and when Hayden’s name was announced on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, we all felt a little tinge of jealousy.
As we played, I realized that playing tight defense would always help me get rebounds, as I had two solid inches on him. In fact, I sort of dominated him early on.
That was, until one of his teammates, an actor I recognized from the TV show Dawson’s Creek, began yelling at him.
“Come on, bro – get some boards, you’re a God Damn Jedi,” he said.
“F**% off,” Christensen spouted back.
It quickly became clear that playing a role as magnified and overanalyzed as Darth Vader was both a blessing and an absolute curse. For a moment, I sort of felt sorry for him.
…Until he went on a scoring rampage that I am unable to fully describe. He hit side jumpers, made impossible lay-ups and drained a three pointer over me with ease. My teammates got a little pissed—even after I managed to hit a jump shot of my own—because Hayden was having his way with me like I was his Droid obeying his basketball command.
It seemed that once his friend called him out, Anakin triggered his inner Jedi, and went from a Padawan to master in just a couple of spin moves. And then suddenly, I scored on a put back lay-up. Then my buddy hit a three. We were back in the game and for a second we all thought that we might have a chance to take home the win.
The game was tied at 19, and Hayden had the ball. I was on him, tight, and was looking to avoid a screen by the kid from Dawson’s Creek. I watched Hayden dribble left, before crossing over to his right, causing me to lose my footing and collide with the leg of my own teammate.
I was left wallowing on the ground like a B-1 Battledroid following the Battle of Geonosis. As I looked up and watched him put in the game winner, I knew that for the rest of my life, I would be known as the guy who got crossed over by Anakin Skywalker.
As we sat court side, taking a break before the next game, he asked me if I was an actor. I told him I was. He said it was a tough business. I told him I agreed. After a few more minutes of small talk, I was sort of hoping to become friends with the dude. After all, my closest Star Wars connection at that point was that I had once witnessed Billy Dee Williams drink an entire bottle of white wine at an Italian restaurant on Beverly Boulevard.
Since I had lost, I sat out the next game, and watched as some actors from the TV show My So Called Life took down Hayden and company and he decided to leave the court without us exchanging numbers. I was a little bummed, but knew someday I could tell my kids that a Jedi had crossed me over at the park.
I was pretty sure that would be my defining moment as an athlete.
Until last week, when Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers dominated me in one-on-one. But that’s another story…