More Than a Game

Posted October 15, 2009 in Film

Sure, this is Kobe country, but it’s impossible to dislike Kristopher Belman’s documentary about LeBron James’ high school basketball career just years before the boy superstar became the NBA’s next great hope. For one, the doc is as formulaic as it comes—sports uplifters have their struggle, struggle, win structure ’cause it works. But here, the tale is true. Or at least, true enough; while pretty parts haven’t been added, any ugliness is played way down. But what’s true is pretty amazing. Ten years ago, a football coach named Dru Joyce took a crack at shaping his middle school son’s neighborhood team as a way to keep kids active down at their Akron, Ohio, community hall. That team of Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, and the boy who would be LeBron went on to the National Finals before any of them were allowed to get a learners permit, even deciding as a group to raise ire by going to the mostly-white private school St. Vincent-St. Mary’s when their head basketball coach proved more supportive of Little Dru’s 5-foot frame. By their junior year, LeBron was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the team had to move their games from the gym to the local stadium to cram in all the fans. But this is a story about friendship, not success—and if you can feel Belman sweating to give the rest of the team equal time, you can’t blame him for wanting to make something bigger than a fast-and-cheap LeBron: Behind the Basketball expose. Belman was a college student when he shot this, and you can feel that the gang accepted him as a peer, not a media frenemy (James’ senior year was nothing but scandals). While they still speak as much in sports platitudes than candor, this little documentary has moxie to spare—like a gambler with an inside bet, you can know the final score, but still enjoy every second of the game. 



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