“More Than a Game” is billed as the LeBron James movie but the superstar player is only part of the tale. The best story in this new documentary, six years in the making, is actually the life story of LeBron’s childhood coach, the man who shaped LeBron not only into a superstar athlete, but ushered him and his teammates from boyhood to manhood.
The film chronicles the rise and, well rise of James and his high school cohorts, the Fab 4 (later to become the Fab 5), a group of fearsomely talented b’ball players who dominated every basketball court they dribbled on from grade school to graduation. Along the way we learn of their struggles and the personal price they paid to become national champions.
Like all sports movies it adheres to the usual win some-lose some formula designed to build drama, but because the story is so recent—most of it happens in the 00s—there isn’t that much drama to be had. LeBron is a superstar and he didn’t get that way by slacking or losing lots of games.
Far more interesting than the rise to the top of the high school athletics heap is the story of the camaraderie, teaching and sacrifice that got LeBron and his teammates there. Like all good sports docs, it’s not really about the sports, it’s about the story behind the game.
That’s where Coach Dru Joyce’s story comes in. He taught these guys how to play the game, but he also gave them something much more important than that. He became a father figure for these young men, giving them more than dribbling advice. He gave them the tools they needed to survive on and off the court, He gave them a winning attitude and that is the heart of the film. He’s an inspiring character who left a career in corporate America to do something really important—be a mentor.
The rest of the film is slickly produced and well put together but suffers from a lack of in-depth reporting and repetition of already established facts. We know coach and players worked hard. We know Dru Senior and Little Dru (one of the Fab 5) had personal and professional problems but much of the meat of the doc is left only half explored. More revealing is the look on James’s face when he and his mother discuss his difficult upbringing. It underlines the early life of pain he’s overcome and is one of the true, raw moments in the film that doesn’t feel overly slick and manufactured.
“More Than a Game” is more than just a sports documentary but could have benefited from less repetition and more good old fashioned reporting.