Skip to main content

A rotund Magic Johnson, one of the game's greats a few years and several pounds ago when he was weaving his on-court wizardry with the Los Angeles Lakers, was sprawled on the carpeted floor trying to stretch out the kinks.

Across the way, Moses Malone, a rebounding machine when he led the Philadelphia 76ers to the National Basketball Association title in 1983, was holding court with several reporters.

Amidst all this raging testosterone sat Canadian television actor Tom Cavanagh, a scrawny former Canadian university basketball player who felt admittedly out-of-place sharing the same space with two of his round-ball heroes.

"Look at this," Cavanagh said, motioning with his arm toward Johnson. "Look where we are, standing in the locker room next to him. I didn't know they were going to have us together before we all went out on the floor.

"It's interesting, you're over here talking to me when 20,000 other people would want to be talking to him."

The event was the National Basketball Association all-star weekend and Cavanagh was one of the invited "celebrity" participants in Saturday's Hoop-It-Up three-on-three competition.

The Ottawa-born Cavanagh may be better known to some as the star of Ed, the popular romantic television comedy on NBC. Cavanagh plays Ed Stevens, a New York lawyer who returns to his hometown of Stuckeyville after getting fired and discovering his wife is cheating on him.

Stevens opens up a bowling alley/law office in his hometown where he dispenses home-spun advice while trying to ignite a romance with an old high school heart throb.

Others might remember Cavanagh fondly as the guy from the old beer commercial who declares: "If I wanted water, I'd ask for water."

Ed is filmed in New Jersey and Cavanagh indulges his passion for basketball by playing pickup in New York City during his spare time. During the late 1980s, the six-foot guard played for five years at the Canadian intercollegiate level while attending Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

Queen's isn't exactly a hotbed of Canadian university basketball, but Cavanagh proudly points out he never suffered through a losing season in the five years he was there.

"I have nothing to show but good times from my time there," the former Golden Gael said somewhat wistfully.

When the NBA started casting around for celebrities to participate in the three-on-three competition at the all-star game, Cavanagh was contacted and asked to play.

He was only too happy to oblige and he joined television and movie star Jamie Foxx, singer/songwriter Brian McKnight and NSYNC's Justin Timberlake for the chance to rub elbows with some of the NBA's elite on the all-star stage.

"It is strange," Cavanagh said. "I get a strong feeling that I've flown in under the radar and that I don't belong here. There's an overwhelming sense of I should probably just leave and let these guys have their face time and get out of their hair."

Representing a team from Sacramento that also featured Kings forward Hedo Turkoglu, Sacramento Monarchs guard Ticha Penicheiro from the Women's National Basketball Association, and former NBA guard Sarunas Marciulionis, Cavanagh's team wound up winning the competition.

Cavanagh did not look that out of place scampering around the court in the two games Sacramento played, scoring a total of four points while seeing limited playing time.

"For the few minutes I was out there, I didn't really know I'm in the all-star weekend, which is great -- otherwise I'd be kicking the ball out of bounds," he said. "Then when you step on the court, it's 'What am I doing here?' "

Cavanagh, who lives in Los Angeles when Ed is not shooting, used to reside in Vancouver and was a huge Grizzlies supporter until this season when team owner Michael Heisley moved the team to Memphis.

"It broke my heart," he said of the move. "There's no team I carry more white-burning hate for than the Memphis Grizzlies and, more specifically, their owner.

"They promised they wouldn't leave, he said they wouldn't leave. Everyone knew he was going to leave, but you don't have to lie."