MOVIE | A churchgoing dad gives LeBron James a place to land
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➤ Rated PG-13
After LeBron James snatched the most-points record this February from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James called himself “just a kid from a small town in Ohio.” That kid from Ohio is now 38 and has attained nearly every honor a basketball player can. But Shooting Stars, based on the book James co-wrote with Buzz Bissinger, takes us back to the green suburbs of ’90s Akron. To a time before we had “the King.” To a time when, like the half-finished lion tattoo on teenage LeBron’s arm, he “ain’t done yet.” It’s a warm story that makes you think.
At the opening, LeBron and his three best friends, Sian, Lil’ Dru, and Willie, are kids riding around in the back seat of Coach Dru’s minivan. Or they’re lounging around his house playing video games, making childish jokes, cussing, and spilling Cocoa Puffs and milk.
These nascent prodigies—who call themselves “the Fab Four” after the Michigan Wolverines’ “Fab Five”—want to play ball.
But when they enter high school, Lil’ Dru (Caleb McLaughlin, Stranger Things) gets rejected from the varsity team for being too short. The ambitious Dru persuades the Fab Four to attend the mostly white St. Vincent’s Catholic School together and join the Fighting Irish basketball team. This introduces an ironic motif as these four black master-athletes execute dunk after dunk to the strident sound of bagpipes. St. Vincent’s washed-up Coach Dambrot (Dermot Mulroney) wants to win so badly that he’ll give these four freshmen the court. But the credit for the Fab Four really goes to Lil Dru’s churchgoing dad, Coach Dru (Wood Harris), who gathered them years before for his junior basketball team, the Shooting Stars. He gave them a brotherhood when Willie’s parents were addicts and LeBron’s single mom needed a place for her kid to land.
The film delivers everything that makes it impossible to look away from a good basketball movie: burpees, bleacher runs, passes, shots, countdowns, and ecstatic wins. But it’s also rated PG-13 for strong language, some suggestive references, and teen drinking. The swearing appears early and runs throughout.
The Fighting Irish fight their way into the news, and soon Sports Illustrated shows up with a notepad to write LeBron (Marquis “Mookie” Cook) into history. Pride takes root in LeBron. Envy infects his friends. Lil’ Dru also resents the attention his dad gives LeBron, an important subplot that strangely never resolves.
None of us had a high school finish like LeBron James did, poised to become a billionaire and one of the most famous people in the world. But blessed are those of us who, like him and the other Fab Fours, had a back seat in the minivan of an adult committed to forming our character.
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