There are few athletes in the world more popular than LeBron James. He is the premiere superstar of the NBA and in a few short years has gone from a High School phenomenon to a household name but James career has also been marked by controversy. You may remember the outrage over his decision to skip College and go straight into the NBA, along with some other controversies involving his Mother taking a loan out to by him a Hummer for his 18th birthday and the player being suspended for accepting some expensive jerseys. While the film does touch on these events it really focuses on the untold story of his childhood basketball team, comprised of James and 4 of his best friends, along with their coach, and how they took a small Akron, Ohio High School basketball team to a national championship.
The documentary sets the stage by introducing us to four young kids growing up in a poor, undeveloped area of Ohio called Akron. Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee and LeBron James were friends from the time they were young kids and they all had one thing in common, they loved basketball. Dru Joyce II, father of Dru Joyce III, realized this and encouraged his son and his friends to play in a local league. Eventually Joyce II becomes the coach and mentor to the kids taking them to a regional championship and fulfilling his dream of being a coach. The story continues to follow the boys as they all decide to go to the same High School together and continue their winning ways towards a nation championship. Coach Joyce eventually joins the team as an assistant Coach and ends up the head coach by the boy’s senior year. Beginning their High School years by starting as freshmen, they soon meet Romeo Travis, who would end up being the missing link to their championship team.
What follows is an inside look at the making of a championship team and the birth of an NBA career. What is interesting about the film is the way that it can captivate you even if you are not a sports fan. Most will be attracted to this film because of the LeBron James story but the truth is that that is just a small part of the film; the true story revolves around these kids, their friendship and their dreams. Not unlike “Hoosiers” the film really gives you a sense of the kids struggle, even with a future superstar like James on the team, they had to work for success. One poignant part of the film is Romeo’s struggle with feeling like an outsider since he didn’t join the team until High School. The documentary is at it’s best when it shows the behind-the-scenes stories of these kids and their journey from the hard streets of Akron to the shiny basketball courts of the tournaments they play in.
Director Kristopher Belman has amazing footage to work with as he had full access to all of his subjects and home videos from the families. Interviews with all the subjects help the narrative to move smoothly through the film. Like any documentary the film is only as strong as it’s subjects and this movie has a very strong subject in James and his teammates. You really feel the love between him and his friends. Of course we know what happens to James but it is interesting to follow the journeys and discover the outcome of the other boys in the closing credits. The film pokes fun at James by saying; “He found seasonal work in Cleveland.”
At the heart of the movie, “More Than A Game” is not about LeBron James but about the friendships between five boys and their coach. The fact that one of the subjects happens to be the future superstar is just an added bonus. I’m sure fans will go see this film for James but what they will leave with is a satisfying story about the dreams of five young boys, their friendship and the sacrifice and dedication that made them champions.
More Than a Game is out September 6, 2008.