Djimon Hounsou never played baseball, but he jumped into the celebrity first-pitch circuit over the past two weeks, making appearances at Wrigley Field and RFK Stadium to promote "The Island," which opened Friday. The co-star of "Gladiator" and "Amistad" was raised a soccer fan in Benin, took up boxing when he moved to Paris as a teenager and became, of all things, a hockey aficionado when he came to the U.S.

How did that happen? Is the NHL big in Benin?

Nonexistent. I learned the game here, when I came to America in . . . When did the Kings go to the finals and lose against Montreal? That was in the early '90s.

Why did it appeal to you?

First of all, it was just a friend of mine, one of my best friends who's married to a Canadian who sort of loved the game, and taught me the game and taught me about all the players. I had such a great time learning about the game and watching it, and I had such a strong affinity for Detroit and what they were going through at the time, so I fell in love with Detroit.

What was the affinity?

It just had to do with how much people were patronizing them, saying it was the best players in the league on one team and they can't even put it together. The criticism about the 'Russian Five,' they used to call them.

Have you ever thrown an octopus?

No, no, no, no.

Have you ever tried to play?

Nope, I will never try. Let me try and skate first.

Where did you box?

In France. I loved boxing. I didn't do it competitively. I trained as if I was trying to go professional for six years and finally gave it up. I really trained hard because I was really, extremely skinny. I was going to school at the time and I was trying to find ways to gain weight, so exercising was one of them.

Were you hoping Paris would get the Olympics?

Yeah, I mean, they've been working hard on it. Obviously it takes so much out of each country to showcase their dedication to the Games and how well they can host the Games. But again, I was equally pleased for England. And certainly the way Tony Blair has been sort of hoping and helping and constructing ways to help Africa, I was happy that he got a bit of a break somewhere.

Did you watch other sports instead?

There wasn't anything to watch. I watched obviously basketball and a little football as well.

Who do you root for in basketball?

Well, this year was a little bit confusing because we lost Shaq. The Lakers were my team, and we lost Shaq, and then I was rooting for Shaq in Miami.

And then it became San Antonio and Detroit and I was going back and forth. I was kind of just hoping for a great, great game.

What about international soccer, do you root for Benin, France or the United States?

Well, international soccer I have to go Senegal. Cameroon did really well the last World Cup, and I also love the Brazilians as well.

So you like the Brazilian soccer team, the Detroit Red Wings and the Los Angeles Lakers?

Well, I love watching great players play, nothing better than that. Great players showcasing their talents, it's just beautiful.

-- Dan Steinberg

Djimon Hounsou