"More Than a Game," focusing on LeBron James and his boyhood pals, is a dream of a hoops movie.
The LeBron James documentary is not exactly about the NBA's MVP. As its title promises, "More Than a Game" takes a broader view. It's a resonant story about four boyhood friends, determination, sacrifice, overcoming obstacles and the mentor who guides them from rough beginnings to the national basketball championship. It's about victorious lives, not games.
The film, by first-time director Kristopher Belman, began when he was 21. For a film-class assignment he began shooting a squad of Akron high school hoopsters on the hunch that they were something special. Good call. They went on to be the greatest high school basketball team of their generation. Belman captured their soul-stirring story in intimate detail, and James, the superstar-to-be, in all his youthful glory.
The film boasts plenty of amazing court action, but the best moments belong to coach Dru Joyce, a role model for the boys and an inspiration for sports dads, as well. "Basketball is a vehicle, not a be-all and end-all," he cautions his young players. "Use basketball; don't let it use you." Joyce was drafted into coaching basketball when his son, Little Dru, wanted to play. He became a tough-love father figure for all his players, emphasis on the love. His steady relationship with James, who never met his father, was a turning point in the young athlete's life.
On the court, James, Little Dru, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee played like a band of brothers. As grade-schoolers, they won the 1999 AAU National Championship Tournament, then signed on at a largely white Catholic high school as a group. The move sparked resentment from their neighbors, who expected "the Fab Four" to play at their local public high school. They kept their focus amid the controversy, winning the state championship. Little Dru, who at 4 feet 10 was often mistaken for the team mascot, helped clinch the victory by scoring seven jaw-dropping three-pointers. Belman's footage of that feat is dramatic dynamite.
The story builds along the classic lines of many sports movies. Publicity fostered egotism, followed by complacency, breakdown of team discipline and a string of losses. Of course the team and their coach have a come-to-Jesus moment when they rededicate themselves to their values. Kangaroo jump shots notwithstanding, "More Than a Game" really soars while it delves into the players' hearts.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186