Rick Fox is shooting for a three — for Cheryl Burke. The former Los Angeles Laker has three National Basketball Association championships, and a Dancing with the Stars victory this season would give his pro partner a record third Mirrorball trophy. "I'm putting the pressure on myself to get that for her," he tells TVGuide.com. "I know Derek [Hough] and Mark [Ballas] could get three too. I have to make sure I'm attentive, coachable and I'm putting in the effort that is required. She shapes our partnership into championship level." So coachable is Fox that he gamely went with Burke's last-minute costume change to have him shirtless in their samba. What prompted the change? Find out below. Plus: See when Fox will return to The Game.
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TVGuide.com: So was you being shirtless really a last-minute change?
Rick Fox: Yes! Once the shirt was ripped open, you were supposed to see the Team Fox-C jersey. Maybe I should tweet a photo of it. We had rehearsal, and Cheryl said ... "So, it doesn't look good. You need to just take your shirt off." [Laughs] We were 20 minutes away [from show time], so I ran to the hair trailer because I have a hairy chest and took care of the hair, and then we evened out the skin tone because I have a farmer's tan. Next thing I knew, all of America was experiencing my bare chest! But I think it really played to the spirit of the samba.
TVGuide.com: Are you going to have another wardrobe malfunction this week?
Fox: Well, I can't answer that until 10 minutes before the show starts! Cheryl will be like, "You know, I just came back from Argentina, and the men there do the tango without pants!" But as of right now, I will be clothed.
Fox: I know! Poor Tony, man. That looked painful. I've shaved my ankles before so I could tape my ankles tighter for games, but that's the extent of my experience with hair removal. So I can't imagine what that pain feels like!
TVGuide.com: How's the Argentine tango going?
Fox: It's Cheryl's favorite dance and she actually did spend three weeks in Argentina learning more about the culture and the dance. The passion, aggression and machismo that are needed are definitely things I brought to the basketball floor, so I think I might take Cheryl on the court so she can see a side of me that she hasn't yet. I already see how the dance fits me like a custom suit. TVGuide.com: You've been handling your height difference with ease. How hard is it for you not to dance down to her?
Fox: I'm used to team sports, so I to want to support a teammate and make their job as easy as they make mine, so my tendency was to hunch over. All that gets me is a smack on my arm! From watching the show, I could tell a lot of the dancing positions are close, so I knew we had a challenge even looking each other in the eye. She's wearing four-inch heels and is level with my chest most of the time, and I'm looking at the horizon! The Latin dances are fun because we get to look at each other.TVGuide.com: You've mentioned your ruptured tendon in your foot. Are you worried about re-aggravating it?
Fox: Yeah, it hasn't been under that type of pressure since I was playing, but right now, I think it's been strengthening due to the hours and stuff we do — lunges, standing on my toes, stretching, spinning on one leg. It has to have strengthened my foot because there's no other explanation for how it's holding up. Cheryl's been very attentive. There's not a day that passes that she doesn't ask how I feel. As an athlete, I pushed through the pain, didn't talk about it, which inevitably created the injury. Now I'm in constant communication about it. That's made the difference.Kurt Warner.
Fox: It's nice to be in a competition within a competition. You can go to practice and compete with your teammate. I know the success of the football players in the past. Jason Taylor opened the door for me. He was a tall guy and did well. We've only had one basketball guy in Clyde Drexler. The fact that we're squared off now is fun. Kurt continues to get better. I know I'm going to work to get better. But it's left in the hands of the judges and America.TVGuide.com: Who from the cast has impressed you so far?
Fox: The pro dancers! [Laughs] They seem to be Energizer bunnies in how they show up for us, show up for the show, show up for media and then head out and socialize. The production has impressed me. ... And then getting to know my castmates — I could not have created such warm relationships in such a short period amidst competition. I'm so used to not even looking at my competitors. It's so bizarre to share the same practice facility, to each lunch together on game day, to be rooting and consoling each other. It's a new competitive experience for me, which I think has enhanced my sportsmanship. Maybe that stuff will end pretty soon!TVGuide.com: You just joined NBA TV as an analyst. It's still preseason, so can you even think about basketball with Dancing going on?
Fox: It's been all Dancing. I've been talking to Kobe [Bryant] and Shaq [O'Neal] and some of my former teammates who are now on other teams. ... [I went to Atlanta Friday] to talk about the upcoming season. I've been reading more in the past week about what's going on so I won't drop dancing references while talking about basketball.
Fox: I was scheduled to be shooting at this present moment! At that point, I don't think they were sure when they were going to be starting, and this opportunity came to the forefront. I've been such a fan of Dancing that I wanted to give it a try after being asked so many years. But the support for The Game — I wouldn't say it's unprecedented — but it was for any show I've been on. To pull us out from the ashes and back onto the air, there's no other way to credit that than to the fans. We're waiting for my schedule to open up after Dancing, so they haven't [written me in] yet. I'm looking forward to getting back there.