Oscars 2022 nominations: From 'King Richard' to 'Ali' - Will Smith's memorable performances in sp...

ByWilliam E. Ricks ESPN logo
Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Editor's note: This story was originally published in November. On Tuesday, Will Smith was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in "King Richard."

Will Smith is a multitalented star, known for his outstanding careers in TV, film and music; but he is certainly no stranger to the sports world.

He is an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan and has a minority ownership stake in the Philadelphia 76ers. Even though he is West Philadelphia born and raised, Smith stars as a Compton, California, sports legend in his latest movie.

The 53-year-old actorportrays Richard Williams, father and coach of Venus and Serena Williams, in "King Richard," released in November. The film depicts how Williams trained his daughters and persevered through many forms of adversity to become stars in tennis.

Throughout his successful career, Smith has acted in various sports movies. Here are some of his most noteworthy performances, in chronological order:

Offering golf advice in "The Legend of Bagger Vance"

In 2000, Smith played the titular role in "The Legend of Bagger Vance." He is a mysterious caddy helping a struggling golfer get his swing back during a tournament against several star competitors.

Smith performed alongside Matt Damon and Charlize Theron for the film, but the trio did not have much success. The movie grossed $40 million worldwide after receiving an $80 million budget, per Box Office Mojo.

Additionally, the movie was criticized for its failure to address racism -- as well as its racial stereotyping, according to a review by The Washington Post. Critics haven't rated this film well, either, as it currently has a 45% on Tomatometer for Rotten Tomatoes.

Nominations and awards: None

Memorable quote: "Inside each and every one of us is one true, authentic swing ... Somethin' we was born with ... Somethin' that's ours and ours alone ... Somethin' that can't be taught to you or learned ... Somethin' that got to be remembered ... Over time, the world can rob us of that swing ... It gets buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shoulda."

Channeling the champ in "Ali"

Smith played Muhammad Ali in the 2001 film "Ali," telling the story of the legendary boxer's conversion to the Nation of Islam and his life inside and outside the ring. Although it wasn't a comprehensive look at Ali's life, it featured his famous fights against Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

Smith was a part of a star-studded cast that included Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, LeVar Burton, Michael Michele and Jada Pinkett-Smith, Smith's wife. This production earned a 68% Tomatometer and 65% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie has been revered as one of the better sports dramas of the 2000s because of Smith's accurate and detailed portrayal of a famous figure.

Nominations and awards: "Ali" was nominated for two Oscars in 2002, one for Smith as best actor.

Memorable quote: "This was supposed to be the fight that Muhammad Ali was ended. Supposed the myth that Muhammad was gonna fall! Supposed to be my destruction! Well, they miscalculated, they misjudged, they got it wrong."

Sports reporting in "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues"

Smith is known for being a leading man, but he crushed his cameo in the 2013 comedy "Anchorman 2," in which he plays the role of an ESPN reporter. He only appears during the scene when competing news stations are about to fight in the park, but he makes the most of his limited camera time.

Nominations and awards: None, but it was an exceptional cameo, nonetheless.

Memorable quote: "Jeff Bullington, ESPN, all sports. Tonight's play of the day is me, extracting your spine from your dead body."

Tackling sports science in "Concussion"

In Smith's 2015 film "Concussion," he played Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in NFL players resulting from multiple concussions.

Alongside cast members Alec Baldwin, Luke Wilson and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, this film told the story of Omalu's scientific discovery and how he brought it to the attention of the NFL. It has a 58% Tomatometer rating and a 74% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Nominations and awards: Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe for best performance by an actor in a drama motion picture in 2016.

Memorable quote: "These men are not machines. We must honor our warriors."

Honorable mention: Balling out in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"

We know, we know: It's supposed to be strictly movies, but who can't help but sing along to the iconic intro to Smith's hit sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," featuring his awful hook shot that hit some unhappy spectators.

In Season 1, Episode 11, "Courting Disaster," the young Smith was a pretty decent hooper. He was the star of his high school team, dazzling spectators with bucket after bucket. In the same episode, there was another scene where Will was putting in work against Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas -- in his dreams, of course.

And who could forget those fire Bel-Air Academy jerseys from that show?

Awards and nominations: Smith was nominated in 1993 and 1994 for best performance by an actor in a comedy or musical. Although he didn't win either time, his acting, along with the show's popularity, is remembered by many as one of the more successful sitcoms of the '90s.

Memorable quote: Too many to count