Want to recruit a high school basketball superstar from French Lick, Indiana — one who broke all of Larry Bird’s high school records? Well it might help to get Larry Bird himself to talk to the kid. That’s exactly what the producers of Blue Chips thought, when they had Coach Bell (Nick Nolte) of fictitious Western University ask Bird for some help in recruiting Ricky (portrayed by real-life Indiana University star Matt Nover). Bird’s appearance was just one of the many superstar cameos that made Blue Chips so real and memorable. Indeed, the blending of fiction and reality was so seamless in Blue Chips, it may have augured the advent of Reality TV. (It certainly influenced Space Jam –– which also featured Bird.)
In addition to Bird and Nover, the film starred other real basketball stars — not least the youthful Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq was the ultimate blue chip) coming off his NBA Rookie of the Year campaign. Shaq’s future teammate Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway joined him on the Nolte-coached Western University. Other big names lending the film such verisimilitude? Indiana coach Bobby Knight, Celtics legend Bob Cousy, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian and announcer Dick Vitale. Indiana players Calbert Cheaney and Keith Smart (who in 1987 hit the game-winning shot for the national title) were also in the movie, along with basketball royalty and Duke guard Bobby Hurley. NBA stars Rick Fox, Kevin Garnett and Marques Johnson also appear. The Indystar celebrates the 25th anniversary of Blue Chips (1994) with a good article interviewing many of the participants.