ON THE RED CARPET — Mike Conley Jr. plays a lot of roles in his life. He's a father, a former Ohio State standout, an NBA All-Star, the starting point guard for the NBA-leading Utah Jazz, and a gritty and grizzled veteran of 14 professional seasons, to name a few titles.
Add "Oscar-winning producer" to that resume.
Conley was among the producing team on the short film, "Two Distant Strangers," a 29-minute Netflix film that took home an Academy Award in the Short Film (Live Action) category Sunday night.
Conley and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant were two of the producers on the film, which is directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe and tells the story of a Black graphic artist who gets stuck on in a Groundhog Day-style time loop that always ends in him being killed by a white police officer.
Starring rapper Joey Bada$$ and Andrew Howard, the film has a 6.9 out of 10 on IMDB and a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. NBA agent Rich Kleiman and music star Sean "Diddy" Combs are also credited as executive producers on the short film.
"It really just kind of hits home with what's going on in our world today, and in our society, and in the eyes of an African American, and what our relationship a lot of times has been with the police," Conley said in January. "It's a great story. It just hits a lot of a lot of key points, and I just wanted to be involved in any way I could."
The Jazz got together last week to watch the short film, the day after Derek Chauvin's guilty verdict in the killing of George Floyd was announced. The timing proved to be appropriate for an organization that has been heavily involved in the NBA's social justice movement.
"It was a pretty special moment," head coach Quin Snyder said.
"The movie itself was certainly impactful," he added. "It was tremendous. In many respects, it was haunting, and I would encourage everybody to see it."
Conley got involved after a friend and former Jordan Brand employee approached him with the story. The point guard was impressed enough that he was soon on a call with Free.
The 33-year-old Conley never set out to win an Oscar; he got involved with the project because it illustrates an important story, and one that has drawn some controversy following last summer's racial justice movement both nationally and internationally. Critics of the film have called the project "Black trauma porn" that is "more triggering than thought-provoking," according to the Los Angeles Times.
"Guys in the locker room were giving me grief about it the other day, just like, 'You might win an Oscar before you win a championship,'" Conley told CBS Los Angeles before the Oscars. "I was like, 'Hey if I could win both, that'd be great,' but obviously an Oscar was not something I thought I'd ever be a part of."
In a season where the Jazz lead the NBA with a 44-16 overall record, he just might win both in the same calendar year. Because Sunday proved to be an important day for Conley and the Jazz on the court, as well: Utah became the first team to clinch a playoff berth, thanks to Memphis' 120-113 win over Portland.
Contributing: Ryan Miller