Based on the book by LeBron James and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger (Friday Night Lights), the docudrama Shooting Stars tells what is essentially the origin story of James’ rise to superstardom and a career that includes being the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a four-time NBA Champion. But the essential part of the story is that James didn’t do it alone, and the film at least makes an effort to show how his relationships with his childhood best friends and his junior high and high school coaches propelled him and supported his ascension from being on the number one high school team in the nation to one of the greatest players basketball has ever seen.
Beginning in the 1990s, young James (Marquis “Mookie” Cook, in his screen debut) and his three closest friends—Lil Dru (Caleb McLaughlin), Willie McGee (Avery S. Wills Jr.) and Sian Cotton (Khalil Everage)—were known as the “Fab Four” and played together as a unstoppable unit in junior high, under the guidance of coach Dru Joyce (Wood Harris) in Akron, Ohio. When the time came to select the high school with the best basketball team, they all seem to agree, until the coach of that school’s team threatens to put Lil Dru on junior varsity, while elevating the other kids to varsity. With more that a little prompting from Dru, there’s a meeting with incoming St. Vincent–St. Mary High School coach (Dermot Mulroney), a disgraced college coach who was let go from his previous job and is attempting to rebuild his personal and profession reputation with this job. The boys decide they’d rather stick together and play at this less-than Catholic school. The entire city takes this as an insult, especially when the Fab Four don’t even get time in the first couple of games with any regularity.
The coach even adds a kid from a rival school into the group, Romeo Travis (Sterling “Scoot” Henderson), throwing the perfect balance off kilter momentarily, but the one thing the newly renamed Fab Five learn to do is adjust. Before long, they start winning games, and the profile of the team, especially James, starts to get national attention as the years go on. Directed by Chris Robinson, Shooting Stars feels a bit too generic and familiar to be a truly inspirational work about remembering who you are and who got you there, staying humble, and elevating others when you’re on top, but the performances by the young actors are mostly solid. The screenplay (from Frank E. Flowers and the team of Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor) covers the high and low points of James’ journey, without digging deep enough into his home life or those of his friends.
According to the film, James starts to get pretty full of himself and begins acting like he’s a one-man squad on the court, a belief that his teammates quickly nip in the bud at a time when scouts and recruiters are looking at James hard. As we find out from title cards at the end of the movie, all of the Fab Five did pretty well for themselves after high school and have stayed close friends to this day.
The basketball sequences are the highlights of Shooting Stars because not only are they shot well, they also make it easy to follow the flow of the games from on the court and the sidelines. It’s the rest of the film where things begin to fall apart, not to a disastrous degree, but when you make a sports movie, the off-court drama has to at least attempt to match the games themselves. The thing about the Fab Five is that they were always good together, and they knew it, so the film can’t even be considered an underdog story because the only thing that made them underdogs was the high school they chose to go to.
But the biggest thing that Shooting Stars has going against it is that there’s already a better movie out there about this subject, the fantastic 2008 documentary More Than a Game, which features great archival footage and more recent interviews with the Fab Five and other key contributors to the team’s championship run. I realize a lot of time has passed since that film’s release, but this part of LeBron’s story hasn’t changed an iota. If you want to know where greatness truly begins, go watch that movie instead of this one.
Shooting Stars is now streaming on Peacock.
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