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Remembering Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America and the scene that made ‘In Da Face’ a thing

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Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America was a smash hit in 1988.
Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America was a smash hit in 1988.
Screenshot: Paramount

Frustrated by many erroneous foul calls on his star player Rik Smits, Dave Magarity found himself pacing up and down the sidelines at Madison Square Garden. It was another game, one of many for the Marist head coach. At the time, there was nothing remarkable about it. But what Magarity didn’t know was that while he was trying to coach his Marist Red Foxes to a win over St. John’s, the game would become a part of movie history, spawning a generation of kids attending whatever basketball game and screaming out “In Da Face!”

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You see that game, that Marist-St. John’s game, would end up in one of the most iconic scenes in Eddie Murphy’s 1988 smash hit Coming to America.

“I was blown away,” Magarity remembers. “I remember getting phone calls from people and I’m like what are you talking about.”

Coming to America is regarded as one of the greatest comedy movies of all time. After 30-plus years, the long-awaited sequel, Coming 2 America, arrives on Friday, March 5. Prince Akeem, Lisa, and the rest of the Zamunda royals return, but due to the pandemic it can’t be seen in theaters, just Amazon Prime Video.

If you haven’t seen the original starring Murphy and Arsenio Hall, both playing multiple characters, stop reading this immediately and watch it. It’s one of Murphy’s best films and, considering the numerous parts he plays, one of his greatest performances. Sexual Chocolate!

So, if you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick rundown (SPOILER): Murphy’s character Prince Akeem of Zamunda, who lives a life of privilege (he has his royal penis cleaned by gorgeous women each morning), travels to America pretending to be an impoverished goat herder in the hopes of finding true love and his queen to be. And while on a double-date, Akeem attends his first basketball game with his love interest Lisa McDowell (played by Shari Headley), her well Jheri-curled boyfriend Darryl Jenks (the heir to Soul Glo) — played by future ER doc Eriq La Salle — and his date, Lisa’s sister Patrice (played by Allison Dean).

That game? The Dec. 28, 1987 showdown between Marist and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, a game that was part of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Holiday Festival.

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“Honestly, I wasn’t aware,” said Magarity, the former Marist coach. “Think about it, you’re playing at Madison Square Garden. There are a million TVs. The tournament is televised, it was probably on MSG network, so it wasn’t unusual that you saw a ton of TV cameras.”

Just so you know, the game was played in MSG, but the scenes with Murphy, Headley, La Salle and Dean were shot, according to IMDB.com, at the Felt Forum, a separate theater within MSG, now known as Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

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The scene opens with Smits throwing one down which prompts Darryl (Eriq La Salle) to jump up out of his seat and shout, “Yes! Yes!….In his face!” Akeem, new to the expression, seemingly having no idea what it means, attempts to mimic Darryl and belts out “Yes… In da face!”

Can watch it below:

Of the many quotable lines from the flick, ‘In Da Face,” has to be the most memorable, and lasting.

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“The scene where Eddie Murphy says in your face and they show my staff huddling up for a brief second,” said Magarity.“It’s been on TV a lot recently. I always try to catch that scene. There are some good basketball highlights. The one scene where we were working the ball around the perimeter and my point guard Joey O’Connor throws an alley-oop to Smits, it’s a great play.”

At halftime, Akeem excuses himself to go to the bathroom where he runs into a MSG vendor, an immigrant from Zamunda who recognizes him. Overcome with emotion the vendor has his picture taken with Akeem in the Forum’s corridor and bows before him, right in front of Lisa, Darryl and Patrice. A dumbfounded Lisa asks, ‘Who was that?”

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“Just a man I met in the restroom,” says Akeem.

Unfortunately, the Red Foxes fell to the Johnnies 66-59, despite a 28-point effort from Smits.

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“I had to go to the movies to check,” said the former Red Foxes guard John McDonough after finding out about Coming To America. “Even if it was for 30 seconds it was cool to be a part of that movie.”

Matt Brust had no idea of the movie and what was happening but noticed something strange as he was riding around Queens during that fall.

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“The whole area where the movie was based is where St, John’s University is,” the former Red Storm swingman recalls (the team ditched their previously-offensive nickname in 1994). “The McDonald’s that they used in the movie, I remember going down to [85-07 Queens Blvd in Queens] and seeing movies sign up and I’m like why is it saying McDowell’s?” In the movie, Lisa’s father Cleo McDowell (played by John Amos) owns a McDonald’s knockoff called McDowell’s. “See, they’re McDonald’s... I’m McDowell’s,” explains Cleo. “They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds.”

Brust, who was a part of 1987-88 St. John’s team, also has his own distinct memory of Coming to America.

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“It was enjoyable,” said Brust. “I was the very last play of the clip and you can see that I can dunk the basketball, but it got cut off. I played it many times, my children enjoy it and they still don’t believe it’s me.”

See the trailer for Coming 2 America below:

 

 

There is no word if Akeem has become a member of #NBATwitter or even if there is a mention of basketball in the upcoming film, but for the Marist and St. John’s, they will always be a part of a classic film.

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“A memorable thing for us and our team,” Magarity added. “It’s a fond memory. It makes you smile.”