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Who’s the Better Movie Athlete: Morris Chestnut or Omar Epps?

Five sports. Five roles. One Winner.

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Morris Chestnut and Omar Epps have played all manner of athletes in their careers: basketball players, football players, track stars, a baseball player, a boxer. So which of the two is the better movie athlete? I don’t mean to ask which one is the better actor as an athlete, because that’s an obvious and easy answer (it’s Epps). I mean to ask which is the more dominant athletically. Were we to gather their IMDb pages and then take all the characters they’ve ever played and put them up against each other in a sort of fictional athletic showdown, who would finish in first place?

To answer that question, we can just pair their athletically identical roles up, see who was the better athlete in each, and then there you go. Problem solved. For structure, let’s keep it to five different categories — basketball, baseball, track, fighting, and football — and then pair up the best Epps role against the best Chestnut role for each. Easy work.

So: Who’s the better movie athlete, Omar Epps or Morris Chestnut?

(20th Century Fox)
(20th Century Fox)

Who’s the Better Basketball Player?

In Like Mike, Morris Chestnut plays Tracy Reynolds, the alpha player on the Los Angeles Knights. (The Knights play in the NBA.) In Love & Basketball, Omar Epps plays Quincy McCall, who, over the course of the movie, grows from driveway basketball player to backup guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.

This one is tricky. It’s established early on in Like Mike that Tracy Reynolds is a superstar in the NBA, but there’s also a part where he plays one-on-one against a 14-year-old as part of a halftime show during a Knights game. So how big of a star could he really have been if he was out there doing that sort of thing, you know what I’m saying? What’s more, he actually ended up losing the game to the kid, three points to zero points. What’s more what’s more, the team ended up signing the kid to play for it, and how does something like that happen unless the superstar of your team ain’t really a superstar? And then what’s more what’s more what’s more, it takes the Knights all the way until the very last shot of their very last game to earn a spot in the playoffs (the first in franchise history). So what I’m saying is that despite being billed as the team’s star, there’s a chance that Tracy wasn’t actually all that good. (It’s like a Brandon Roy situation.) But then, of course, you could say, “Yeah, OK, I get all that, but what about the New Orleans Pelicans right now? They’re just several dire days away from signing a kid out of the stands to help Anthony Davis. Are you saying that Anthony Davis isn’t a superstar?” So there’s a lot to think about with Chestnut’s Tracy Reynolds.

With Epps, it’s much clearer: In Love & Basketball, his character left college after a year to play in the NBA, and he was able to stick around in the league for a few years. So that means he wasn’t a total bum, but he never really caught on like he had hoped, and he for sure wasn’t a superstar. The last we see of him playing basketball is him getting into a regular-season game as a backup guard for the Lakers. Since Love & Basketball came out in 2000, that means he was on the 2000 Lakers, and if he was a backup guard on that team, then that means he was somewhere around Tyronn Lue’s skill level.

So I guess everything comes down to: Do you want a player who was probably as good as Tyronn Lue, or do you want a player who was potentially as good as Anthony Davis?

It has to be Davis, right? It has to be Davis. Chestnut wins this category.

Chestnut: 1
Epps: 0

(Paramount Pictures)
(Paramount Pictures)

Who’s the Better Baseball Player?

Omar Epps plays Cleveland Indians leadoff man Willie Mays Hayes in Major League II. The closest Chestnut comes to playing a baseball player is when his character in Not Easily Broken, Dave Johnson, is a Little League baseball coach. I’ve coached several Little League teams in my life. A good way for me to figure out who the better athlete is in a lot of situations is I just ask myself, “Which of these two do I have the most in common with?” The winner of that question is the loser of the “Who’s the better athlete?” question. This one is a runaway win for Epps.

Chestnut: 1
Epps: 1

(Columbia Pictures)
(Columbia Pictures)

Who’s the Better Track Runner?

Both Epps and Chestnut play track runners in Higher Learning (Epps plays Malik Williams, Chestnut plays an unnamed runner). Fortunately for us, they’re actually both on the same 4x100 relay team, so figuring out who the better track runner is is just a matter of sorting through running assignments.

Speaking generally, relay assignments are sorted so the first runner is the second-fastest person on the team, the second runner is the third- or fourth-fastest person on the team, the third runner is the third- or fourth-fastest person on the team, and the last runner is the fastest person on the team. Knowing that, all we have to do is look at the relay race that takes place in Higher Learning and see who falls where. Doing so shows us that Epps’s Malik Williams, though described by the coach as a “superstar rookie freshman,” is an inferior runner. Not only is he placed in the second runner’s slot on the team, but he’s also the only one who gives up any ground to the other runners during the race. Chestnut’s unnamed character runs the anchor for the team, and he’s actually nearly able to run back the deficit that Williams gives up during his leg. So Chestnut wins this category.

Chestnut: 2
Epps: 1

(Paramount Pictures)
(Paramount Pictures)

Who’s the Better Fighter?

While Chestnut has played a hired tough guy in several movies (Kick-Ass 2, Identity Thief, The Cave, Confidence, etc.), and while he was even in a Steven Seagal movie in which he threw a woman villain out of a helicopter to her death after fighting her, this category has to go to Epps, who played “Lethal” Luther Shaw, a gritty and angry boxer who gets white-saviored into fighting stardom by Meg Ryan in 2004’s Against the Ropes.

Chestnut: 2
Epps: 2

(Columbia Pictures)
(Columbia Pictures)

Who’s the Better Football Player?

In The Program, Omar Epps plays Darnell Jefferson, a standout high school recruit who goes on to star as the running back and punt returner for the ESU Timberwolves in college. So that one’s easy. He’s who we’re using here on the Epps side of the football equation. Chestnut, though, is a little more complicated.

We have at least three different versions of Morris Chestnut as a football player that we can choose from. He was a sought-after high school running back and kick returner in Boyz n the Hood (Ricky Baker). He was a wide receiver for a professional team in The Game Plan (Travis Sanders). And he was a running back for the New York Giants in The Best Man (Lance Sullivan).

We should probably nix Ricky from the available options here, and I’m not saying he has to leave just because he died in Boyz n the Hood, I’m saying he’s out as a viable option because I just don’t think he was that great of a running back given the available evidence. There was only one scene in the movie in which we see him display his running back skills in real time, and that was when he was running away from the car that the guy who was going to shoot him was hanging out of. So if we just look at that scene, I think it tells us enough. He showed:

  • Bad spatial awareness. Ricky is walking down an alley scratching lottery tickets when the car pulls up in front of him. Despite the fact that it’s full of people who want to kill him, and also despite the fact that he’s walking straight toward it, he doesn’t see it. Tre, who’s walking in the opposite direction, is the one who warns him that he’s walking into death. If you aren’t keen enough to notice a Honda has just pulled up in front of you, how are you gonna notice a linebacker coming in from your blind side, is what I’m saying.
  • Bad instincts. In that particular setting, the no. 1 play for Ricky would’ve been to go either directly to his right or directly to his left and hop one of the gates into someone’s backyard. If he’d have done that, he’d have eliminated the shooter’s line of sight and immediately made himself safe. He didn’t do that, though. Instead, he turned around and tried to outrun the inevitable bullets that were going to be fired at him, which, let me tell you something, is not that great of an idea. Although maybe you were able to figure that out, with Ricky getting a hole blown in his chest.
  • Bad evasive maneuvers. This is maybe the worst of the three. When he turned to run away from the car, he ran in a straight line. He should’ve cut. He should’ve zigged. He should’ve zagged. He should’ve done what running backs are supposed to do, which is dodge shit. You think Barry Sanders is getting hit with those shots? Not a fucking chance. He probably could’ve run AT the car and still dipped and ducked his way to safety.

So that’s why Ricky’s out. I love him, but he’s out.

That leaves us with two options. First is Travis Sanders, the starting wide receiver for the New York Dukes (of the American Football Federation). Sanders actually caught the game-winning touchdown pass that won the championship for the Dukes at the end of The Game Plan, so he’s a legit contender here. But I’m going to lean over toward Chestnut as Lance Sullivan, running back for the New York Giants in The Best Man, if only because the American Football Federation sounds ridiculous. So that means for the football category we’re putting Chestnut’s Lance Sullivan against Epps’s Darnell Jefferson.

Playing running back for the actual New York Football Giants seems like it would make this an easy decision. On the one side is a college freshman, on the other side is a professional. The thing of it is, though, The Best Man came out in 1999. That means Sullivan was the running back for the 1999 Giants, and the 1999 Giants were mostly poo-poo. They finished that season with a 7–9 record, they had the 20th-ranked offense in the league, they were ranked 27th in rushing yards per attempt (3.3), and they were tied for 24th in rushing yards gained for the season (1,408).

Jefferson, on the other hand, was so good as a freshman that his coach, who had been threatened with termination if he wasn’t able to guide his team to a bowl game, not only put Jefferson in to return a crucial punt at the end of the game, but also ended up calling the last two plays of the biggest game of the season for Jefferson, both of which, by the way, he was successful on, and the latter of which, FYI, was the game-winning touchdown.

So it’s a tougher decision than I’d thought it was going to be originally. I think I have to lean toward Jefferson, though. I like his upside. Plus, the last we see of Jefferson in The Program is him removing a very important test from his helmet and handing it to his girlfriend’s disapproving father. Jefferson had failed the test earlier in the movie, but he retook it and ended up getting a higher score than the girlfriend’s father did when he took it (the father played football for ESU as well, so Jefferson asked the coaches to look up his score). That sort of pettiness is the exact kind of thing that makes for star football players. So he wins. Give me Epps’s Jefferson over Chestnut’s Sullivan.

Final Score

Chestnut: 2
Epps: 3

So, the question again: Between Morris Chestnut and Omar Epps, who is the greater fictional athlete?

It’s Epps. He edges out Chestnut.