Garry Marshall, who died Tuesday at 81, directed 18 movies that had one thing in common—besides becoming classics in the romantic comedy genre, that is: Actor Héctor Elizondo, 79, was in all of them. He was even nominated for a 1991 supporting actor Golden Globe for his role as hotel manager Barney Thompson, who gives Julia Roberts an etiquette lesson in Pretty Woman (1990).
Speaking to TIME by phone on Wednesday, Elizondo recalled the first time he met his friend and colleague from what he called the “temple of Marshall,” the Falcon Theatre (the Burbank, Calif. playhouse Marshall founded). He claims Marshall had seen him in New York in the plays Steambath and Sly Fox, and that’s how Elizondo got invited to a regular basketball game with New York producers and directors on Marshall’s home court in Hollywood in 1979. Marshall was described to him as the creator of Happy Days — which, to Elizondo, was the sitcom that “happened to knock my show Popi on CBS off the air.”
What happened next on the basketball court was pure coincidence, however—and would change Elizondo’s life:
Among those commonalities was their shared history and love of music: