Take the character-actor, wait-I've-seen-this-guy-before quality of screen actors such as Jeremy Piven or Dan Hedaya. Cross that with the do-gooder attributes of famous funnyman and perennial telethon host Jerry Lewis. Toss in a bit of Nelly's St. Louis-playa-made-good street cred for extra measure. The resulting offspring: Joe Torry.
The native St. Louisan and Southwest High graduate has been doing the comedian/actor thing in LA since the mid-'80s, when he landed a guest role on the Sherman Hemsley-helmed sitcom Amen (he's since appeared in the movies Poetic Justice, House Party 3, Sprung and Fled), but around these parts Torry is perhaps best known as the man who founded the Joe Torry "Giving Back the Love" Foundation. The foundation, which was established in 1996, is dedicated to improving the lives of St. Louis-area kids through athletic sponsorships, school-supply donations and leadership programs. Even with such plentiful philanthropy, the foundation itself may be best known for its annual Joe Torry Celebrity Basketball Challenge, a star-studded hoops benefit that teams up A-list luminaries with NBA legends for one game of mega-celeb wattage.
Like any seasoned Hollywood player worth his SAG card, Torry knows how to call in favors among his famous friends to lure them to the Lou for his charity weekend. And we do mean "player" -- Torry plays in the NBA Entertainment League, an actor-and-rapper-heavy, faux-pro group based in LA, where an unlikely mélange of marquee names (Ashton Kutcher, Dean Cain, Coolio, Frankie Muniz, Bill Bellamy and Bow Wow, to name a few) square off for a five-month season. (We highly recommend checking out the team rosters at www.nba.com/nbae/nbae_rosters.html.) While Torry claims that he likes to "save the big names for last" when announcing who will be playing in the Celebrity Challenge, he's invited a slew of stars, many of whom have played in games past. And if history repeats itself, the following stars will also take part in the panel discussions and kids' programs that weekend, plus make themselves readily available before and after the game for autograph-seekers and shutterbugs: Nick Cannon, Vivica A. Fox, Colin Hanks, Clyde "The Glide" Drexler and Moses Malone, plus local celebs Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Nelly (natch) and Cedric the Entertainer, who must look smashing in a jersey and shorts.
As a member of the NBAE Bucks this past season, Torry cheekily describes his own mad hoop skillz as "a power point-shooting forward trapped in a guard's body." (Translation: He averaged five points, two assists and two rebounds per game.) But cut him some slack; though Torry did play in outdoor b-ball leagues while growing up here, his varsity sports were football, wrestling, and track and field. And even if he's not hitting his bank shots, he's banking high-profile movie roles: His next project is Beauty Shop, the sistahood's answer to Barbershop, starring Vivica A. Fox and Mo'Nique.