|01 October 2004|
By Doug Booth, PA International
Hollywood and basketball have shared a lot over the years.
Billy Crystal publicised the sport on the big screen in My Giant, with Romanian star Gheorghe Muresan.He later starred as an NBA referee, with Charles Barkley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in Forget Paris.
Shaq and Michael Jordan have also appeared in cameo roles but neither can match the exploits of Australian-born, Netherlands international Michael Kingma.
The former Sydney Kings and Hunter Pirates centre in Australia's National Basketball League recently played a wookie in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, the latest movie from George Lucas, which is due out in May next year.
"They were filming at Sydney's Fox Studios and they wanted tall guys - more than 6ft 9ins (205 cm) tall - so they rang the Kings," said Kingma.
"They wanted five wookies (tall, hairy creatures like Chewbacca) so I fitted the bill.
"They also picked David Stiff of the Kings and Axel Dench, from the Wollongong Hawks."
Kingma said he had seen the Star Wars trilogy "3 or 4 times" before landing the role as one of the hairy wookies.
"Some people have suggested that there may have been some type-casting because I usually have a a long beard with my hair way out there," he said.
"I have already been christened "Chewy" as well as the traditional names for an Aussie overseas - Crocodile Man and Skip.
So, with "lights, camera, action" long gone from the Kingma routine, it's down to playing basketball for the 25-year-old Sydney-raised center, who recently signed with Belgian division one outfit Scarlet Vilvoorde, which is coached by American Tom Johnson.
Just how Kingma ended up in Belgium may be worth a movie one day, however. Discarded by Sydney Kings, he joined the Pirates last season, averaging 10 points and six rebounds. Once again, he was cut.
"I thought I had a long future in Australia. I grew up in Sydney and wanted to stay in the NBL," said Kingma.
"But the NBL's salary cap squeeze meant that it was becoming increasingly hard to earn a decent wage in Australia."
That's when he decided to take advantage of his Dutch passport.
His parents, Martimus Wilhellmus (Tim for short) and Yoke, had emigrated to Australia when he was one so his was eligible for dual citizenship.
Things began to move quickly.
Dutch basketball authorities saw his details on the Internet nearly three months ago and they invited him, all expenses paid, to try out for the national team.
"Everything fell into place," he said.
Kingma now has a contract with one of the most progressive clubs in Belgium, lives in a rent-free apartment, drives a club car and is paid significantly more than he was earning in the NBL.
Oh, and he has also played international basketball.
All within the past three months.
Michael, may the force be with your team, because it is already with you!