More than a Game
LeBron, teammates got ‘Game’
Here’s how post-industrial economics works. Akron, Ohio, used to be famous as the home of the US rubber industry. Now it’s famous as the home of LeBron James, the NBA superstar. Akron is the setting for “More Than a Game,’’ an often slick and just as often emotionally involving documentary about James’s pre-NBA career. More than just a sports documentary, “More Than a Game’’ is about the bonds shared by James and four of his high school teammates. Three of them he’d been playing with since fifth grade.
It’s a unique situation, which was recognized early on. So the filmmakers have large quantities of period footage from home videos and local television to draw on. These are supplemented with present-day interviews with the players, their families, and coaches.
Everyone assumed the Fab Four, as they were known after their AAU team nearly won its age-group national championship, would attend the local public high school. They would have, except that one of them, Dru Joyce, was so short he was told he couldn’t make the team there. So when he announced he’d be going to a local, predominantly white parochial school, St. Vincent-St. Mary, James and the other two decided they’d go there. Their sense of mutual allegiance was that strong.
A missed opportunity is the effect of the school on the boys, and vice versa. Instead of sociology, “More Than a Game’’ focuses on personality. We learn in turn each boy’s story. Joyce’s height, and the fact his father was the AAU coach and would eventually become the coach at the school, is one subplot. Another is Willie McGee’s being relegated to the bench senior year (how will he handle it?) and his having moved to Akron from Chicago to be raised by his older brother. Sian Cotton’s subplot is whether he’ll skip a big game senior year to play in a football all-star game. (His athletic future’s on the gridiron, and he knows it, so will he risk a likely scholarship for the sake of his teammates?) An outsider with a chip on his shoulder, Romeo Travis is the one who makes the Fab Four a fivesome.
James is the star, of course. “We’re like a rock band,’’ Joyce says, “and he was just the lead singer.’’ Lead singer is right, but backup band is more like it. What’s almost as impressive as James’s talent on the court is his poise and character.
The filmmakers nicely balance events on and off the court. Much of the storytelling is visually hyped-up (“Hoop Dreams’’ this ain’t) and the soundtrack is pretty egregious. The most egregious thing isn’t the filmmakers’ doing, though. The amount of attention lavished on these teenagers - not to mention the small fortunes being made off of them - is nothing short of obscene. What exactly is ESPN doing broadcasting high school games? And what is a high school team doing traveling to California for games? Sports is less important than friendship the movie says. But it shows us something different.
There’s a simple, affecting scene toward the end, with James and his mother visiting their old apartment. He enters his empty room and talks about how he covered the walls with pictures of NBA stars. “That was the Michael Jordan wall,’’ he says pointing. “That was Allen Iverson. That was Kobe Bryant. And that was all the rest.’’ What we see is bare walls. What James sees is his dreams. What we both see is their having come true.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.