Knicks had James Gandolfini reprise Tony Soprano role in bid to lure LeBron James
A surreal story surfaced this week about how the New York Knicks came up with an incredible, unorthodox gambit when the NBA team attempted to lure LeBron James to the Big Apple.
When the then-Cleveland Cavaliers star was contemplating his NBA future in 2010 — ahead of the infamously panned “The Decision” debacle, of course — the Knicks cooked up a crazy plan the team believed would move the needle in its dogged pursuit of James.
As detailed in a dispatch this week from The Hollywood Reporter, the Knicks recruited James Gandolfini to take part in the team’s free-agency pitch to James. The late actor surprisingly agreed to reprise his Tony Soprano role from the groundbreaking HBO series “The Sopranos.” As a bonus, Edie Falco, who portrayed long-suffering wife Carmela, agreed to reprise her role as well.
The tale of what played out next was covered on a recent edition of the docuseries podcast “Shattered: Hope, Heartbreak and the New York Knicks.” Producer Rocco Caruso was enlisted to film a scene in which Gandolfini and Falco portrayed their iconic characters and spoke directly to James.
“They thought wouldn’t it be funny if we could somehow start the piece with ‘The Sopranos’ because it had just more or less ended,” Caruso recalled. “And I said I know Edie … I could send her an email, and she said ‘Great. I’ll do it.'”
Apparently, the plan was for Gandolfini and Falco to act as if the couple were friends of James and that the scene involved them helping find him a place to live in New York, which jokingly was Madison Square Garden. The scene was shot in Gandolfini’s apartment.
“And there we were, dressed as our characters. And I was thinking, ‘This can’t possibly be happening,'” Falco said.
Gandolfini, who passed away at the age of 51 in 2013, was sporting a heavy beard at the time. The script was altered to reflect the notion that the ruthless crime boss was in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
Falco remembers Gandolfini enjoyed the experience of helping the Knicks while reprising the legendary role, as “The Sopranos” series concluded years before in 2007.
“There he was dressed as Tony,” Falco recalled. “… he must have been a bigger basketball fan than I realized.”
Of course, the Knicks’ best-laid plans did not pay off, as James elected to take his “talents to South Beach” and sign with the Miami Heat. Still, what a fantastic story, and the Knicks at least deserve credit for coming up with such a gonzo pitch in the first place.