Last Thursday, a young New Yorker named Jack Teitelbaum showed up at a municipal basketball court in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, where he grew up. He brought with him zero expectation that by day’s end, his image would be circulating around the internet, as a participant in one of the most talked about basketball matchups of the summer.
Not long after Jack and his buddy Teddy rolled up to the court (after they’d realized their usual spot, the bustling court on West 4th known as “The Cage,” was clogged up with summer tournaments), they spotted another New Yorker on the court: Adam Sandler, whose presence amused Teitelbaum but didn’t necessarily surprise him. He’d seen footage online of the Sandman, a known basketball nut, playing on this court before. He would soon learn that Sandler was waiting for his pal, actor Timothée Chalamet, who’d possibly stopped to pick up some new basketball sneakers at a Foot Locker on the way.
Teitelbaum, 20, graduated seven years behind Chalamet from LaGuardia High School, the storied Upper West Side performing arts institution of Fame fame that also counts Nicki Minaj, Adrien Brody, and Azealia Banks among its alumni. He’s home for the summer from Kenyon College in central Ohio, where he’s a rising senior studying theater and classics. His summer job is at Fanelli Café in SoHo, which is a popular restaurant to see and be seen while loitering around outside with a martini. He is an aspiring actor who speaks with a subtle New York accent. In what seems like a perfect confluence of all of these things, that Thursday he and Teddy would find themselves running threes against Timmy and the Sandman in front of an audience of paparazzi and wide-eyed onlookers—and, by Teitelbaum’s account, beating them in all three games, which is a feat some on the internet have only dreamed of.
What followed lit up social media, which is how I found Teitelbaum and arranged to speak with him by phone this week. We chatted about Sandler’s trash talk, Chalamet’s form, and his overall very surreal Thursday afternoon.
GQ: So, you woke up last week and said, “I’m going to go play some basketball today.”
Jack Teitelbaum: [Laughs] Yeah, I had work at 5 or 6 p.m. or something that day, so I just wanted to get a quick workout in with my friend Teddy beforehand. We go to Houston and 6th, we just start playing one-on-one, and Adam Sandler walks on the court. I honestly wasn’t even really shocked or surprised by him making an appearance because, again, I’ve seen him there before. So I just give him a quick fist bump and I’m just very casually, “Hey, big fan, good to meet you,” get back to our game. And he’s warming up on the other side of the court with some other dude, and eventually he comes over to us. He’s like, “So are we going to get a game?” I look over at Teddy and I’m like, “Fuck yeah, it’s Adam Sandler. We’re not going to say no.” We start playing a two-on-two. It’s him and some random guy, and then me and Teddy.
Sandler didn’t know the other guy?
He didn’t know the other guy. He just loves playing pickup with random people in New York City. I think it’s so cool that he just walks around without a bodyguard. He’s one with the people. So, we played one game, Teddy and I get the W, and then Adam’s like, “Okay guys, before we start the next one, I got a friend coming, so let’s just wait for the friend to come and we can play three-on-three,” because there’s another guy who just showed up. So I’m like, “Okay, it’s just going to be some other older person.” I’m not really assuming that it’s going to be a high-status celebrity. And then none other than Timothée Chalamet walks on the court.
At this point I’m just like, “What the fuck is going on?” He comes through with the obviously freshly bought pair of shoes and he starts lacing up. We get a three-on-three: It’s him, Adam Sandler, and some random guy, and me, Teddy, and some other person. The first thing I said to Timothée was, “Big fan.” Me and Teddy had both gone to LaGuardia, the same high school as him. So I instantly make the connect. I’m like, “Yo, LaGuardia grads.” “Oh, hey, what year? Blah, blah, blah.” But it was funny. I was particularly amused at the way that he introduced himself. Like, it’s Timothée Chalamet, it’s a household name, [with] Adam Sandler, but he’s just like, “What’s good? I’m Timothée.” I don’t know. You don’t expect them to introduce themselves like that.
I think we ran three games, all of which were great, competitive, fun. Adam Sandler is very physical, uses his elbows a lot. I think the first thing that he says before we start playing is, “Okay, you guys seem really fast, so I’m going to be fouling a lot on my end.” He just uses his body really, I don’t want to say violently, but he likes to back you down.
Was there any trash talk?
Well… Okay, I felt more comfortable trash talking to Sandler than Chalamet. Sandler was playing really physically. Timothée shoots the ball and stays on the perimeter. But yeah, I feel like there was some blocks and some, “Get that shit out of here.”
My more sports-minded coworkers asked me to ask you: How’s Timmy’s jumper?
Surprisingly good. It took him a while to warm up, but when it went in, it looks good… And his shooting form was surprisingly good. He definitely has got something but I’ve never seen him playing basketball before online, so I don’t know. I know he mentioned that he played on the LaGuardia basketball team in high school.
Was he easier or harder to guard than you expected?
Pretty much what you think.
What was kind of the dynamic between the two of them? Between Sandler and Timmy?
Timothée’s calling him Sandman. “Great shot, Sandman.” And Adam’s super serious when he’s playing. There’s not a lot of joking around… Adam’s like a coach kind of player. He’s coaching on the court as he’s playing.
At any point did you forget that you were playing pickup basketball with Adam Sandler and Timothée Chalamet?
Obviously, the first time you see them you’re just like, “What the fuck is going on?” But you start playing and they’re just like every other random dude you start playing pickup with. I mean, aside from the countless people watching behind the cage and all the paparazzi when we were playing, it was just straight basketball. It was good vibes.
Did anyone bring up that the paparazzi were there?
I mean, I think every time I’d score a bucket on Timmy, he’d be like, “Paparazzi, you got your highlight.” Like, “Fuck, you guys are making us look silly in front of paparazzi.”
You said you played three games. Who won? What was the breakdown?
Well, I don’t want to brag, but if you’re asking, it was 3-0, me and Teddy’s team.
I guess I really only have your word for it.
That’s true. I could be totally bullshitting you.
It’s interesting, too, you went to LaGuardia, you want to be an actor. Have you had any weird moments in the last couple days, processing the surreality of it all?
The main thing that I took out of it was just that these are totally normal people. They’re just regular dudes. Once you’re just playing and talking with them, there’s no starstruck element to it. But I will say I definitely had to delete social media a couple days following the incident because I was just getting hundreds of notifications from everybody. It [was] overwhelming. People are asking me like, “Ah, did you use this to your advantage? Is Adam going to cast you in a new film?” I honestly brought up nothing about me wanting to pursue acting at all to them. I’m sure they get it all the time. They have tons of people coming up and asking them for photos. And I felt like the best thing was just [to] treat them like a normal dude on the street.
And you’re from the city too, so there’s sort of an etiquette. You let people be, in some ways.
At Fanelli’s, I’m serving Chris Rock every other week, you know?
This interview has been edited and condensed.