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From ‘The Wire’ to ‘The Breaks,’ Wood Harris always wins Most Authentic

The former college basketball standout talks about Archie Bunker, persistence and why he loves watching — and playing — basketball

If it weren’t for yet another sports-related injury, Sherwin David “Wood” Harris might be out there on a professional court with the best of them.

“I don’t really think I can play these new guys one-on-one,” he said. “I tore my Achilles last year playing basketball.”

The actor laughs a bit — he’s joking — but only slightly, as Harris actually is a basketball player. He portrayed ballplayer Motaw in 1994’s Above the Rim while also playing in real life for Northern Illinois University, where he earned a degree in theater arts from its School of Theater and Dance (he later earned a master’s degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts). Wood Harris — whose brother, Steve Harris, has appeared in many series, including Friday Night Lights and The Practice — portrayed drug kingpin Avon Barksdale in HBO’s seminal The Wire and acted alongside Denzel Washington as high school football player Julius Campbell in 2000’s Remember the Titans. Fresh off his role as New Edition’s beloved choreographer Brooke Payne in the BET biopic, the Chicago-born Harris currently stars alongside Mack Wilds in VH-1’s must-watch The Breaks, which airs its finale this week.

What are you looking forward to in 2017?

This year’s been pretty special already, you know? There’s a lot of great work I’ve been aligned with. I have a lot of prosperity around me. I love it, and I think I’m probably due for it. It’s not like my first go-around in show business. I’m excited to see what happens.

This has been a big year for you.

Honestly, I think it’s about timing. I did the New Edition miniseries and [got] so much attention from that. There’s talk of Emmy nominations for myself, that’s a very positive thing for me. … I’m very fortunate. I think I have a certain amount of talent which you can’t ignore. I’ve also worked with very talented people … just real high-caliber talent. Remember the Titans, that was Denzel [Washington]. Even my first [film] was with Tupac [Shakur]. Every basketball season they play [1994’s] Above the Rim because I had a relationship with Tupac. I believe in myself, and I think people see more of me because it’s that time.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Advice is energetic. If you trust somebody and they give you a direction, and it leads you somewhere that helps you to be an optimal version of yourself, I feel like I’ve gotten those things from mentors throughout the years. Talent won’t get you as far as persistence.

There’s no TV but basketball and sports. I don’t watch acting.”

What’s your favorite throwback TV show?

All in the Family. Carroll O’Connor is a big influence of mine, even for The Breaks: Archie Bunker in All in the Family. That guy’s a great actor. He’s so real, we think he really is Archie Bunker. There’s so much rhythm that he has; he’s so free as an artist. Patience and freedom at the same time is a deadly, powerful thing.

What’s the last show you binge-watched?

The wild thing about me is I don’t watch TV that much anymore!

You’re too busy making TV!

Yeah! I’m making TV! You know how you cook food and you’re not as hungry after you cook it?

Describe who you are during NBA season.

All I watch is sports. Sports and maybe documentaries. During NBA season I’m one of the ballers out there. Man, I’m out on the court! I’m on the floor. I’m a Chicago Bull. There’s no TV but basketball and sports. I don’t watch acting.

Who’s your favorite athlete?

LeBron [James]. But it’s a toss-up between LeBron and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook … he’s my size. I’m really impressed by him averaging a triple-double for the season. Westbrook is unbelievable, but LeBron is my favorite because of all the integrity he has as a person. He’s the best athlete, but I kind of just like him. He’s amazing at taking the high roads. I think people are envious of him, too, so they ridicule him for his hairline and nothing that has to do with basketball. I’m a fan of him because he is … a pro. Black people, we need a lot of that, and I love that. I really do.

And you’ll be playing a basketball player again soon?

[In] the film about the first black guy to have a contract with the NBA, Nate Clifton. We called him “Sweetwater.” I’ve been slated to do that for a while now. I’m excited to get to depict basketball players. I love the fact that basketball players have to watch me play basketball!

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter and the host of Another Act at Andscape. She can act out every episode of the U.S. version of The Office, she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.