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A review of the LeBron James biopic, Shooting Stars

The best kings are benevolent; LeBron James (nicknamed King James for his time in the Akron, Ohio youth leagues) displayed this trait from his earliest days, both on the court in real life and in fictional form in this film, which is not about LeBron James, by itself, not at all. Shooting Stars is based on the biographical book by James and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger (The lights of Friday night). Both the book and the movie make it clear that the basketball star’s legacy began in his pre-teens and includes several people who won’t go unrecognized if James has anything to say about it, and as a producer of Shooting Stars He did.

In 2003, a teenage James (played here by a fine Marquis “Mookie” Cook) and his teammates at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, became the number one high school basketball team in the nation. It was the culmination of James’ stellar high school career, and it launched an amazing journey that led him to become a four-time NBA champion, the league’s all-time leading scorer, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Not to mention a revered civil and human rights activist, a successful businessman, and an overall nice guy.

Shooting Stars it’s not about any of that. Parts of LeBron’s professional career are told truncated with some figures omitted or combined for cinematographic purposes, but that’s about it. And the movie is better at focusing on relationships rather than the easy-to-see climactic moments of counterattacks and dunks.

Instead, the story of this film is the story of how James’ talent and tenacity were cultivated by his inner circle: his single mother, Gloria (Natalie Paul); his first real trainer, Dru Joyce II (Wood Harris); his teammates, Lil Dru Joyce, (Strange thingsCaleb McLaughlin), Willie McGee (Avery S. Wills, Jr.), Sian Cotton (Khalil Everage), Romeo Travis (Scoot Henderson); and his high school coach, Keith Dambrot (Dermot Mulroney). It is these relationships and circumstances that Shooting Stars deals, with the narratives of people not named LeBron James often at the center of the film. However, James is the force around which all things gravitate.

The film follows James from the age of nine, when he and the boys who would become his extended family on and off the court were introduced to basketball. After winning at the pre-secondary level, all four young men chose to attend the same high school and, for reasons that are quite poignant and, in real life, controversial, chose St. Vincent–St. Mary High, a private Catholic school with a predominantly white student body.

The Fab Four, as they would call themselves, immediately stand out beyond their gaming skills, as they are African-Americans from the neighborhood at a school with few black children. They meet some other black kids on the basketball team who aren’t particularly happy with the new black kids on the block, sparking an internal rivalry for team dominance with the only other African-American students at the school.

Shooting Stars is the moving story of James’ life during this period. It’s so clear that LeBron will achieve his hoop dreams that the story becomes what will happen to everyone around him, including his teammates and coaches, and even his girlfriend and future wife. This plays out in various family scenes involving children and sports. But beyond the games, there’s a movie about young black men with basketball dreams and fears whose lives aren’t so secure. The 5-foot-3 Lil Dru isn’t considered to have NBA potential (not even her dad) and feels the need to prove she can play with the big boys; Willie McGee knows that his once-dominant abilities are no longer his, while James, even as he exceeds all expectations, laments a possible future without the only teammates he’s ever known.

Some sports movies are about winning and losing. Others are not about sports at all. You can tell the difference by how you feel when the movie ends and the team or player you are rooting for loses. If you’re involved in the character as an individual and not as a sports figure, that sports movie wasn’t about sports. Rocky loses, and we love him even more, because Rocky Ultimately, it’s not about boxing. King James, as often happens, wins mostly, but not always. Shooting Stars it’s about how he and his teammates react to losing games and losing faith in each other.

shooting stars | Official trailer | original peacock

basketball games in Shooting Stars they’re cheaply staged, played for maximum dramatic effect, and don’t matter at all. It’s just the moments when these guys, who may or may not become basketball stars, establish their character and moral quality. Wisely and somewhat surprisingly, Shooting Stars it’s about that process and those people.

With the elimination of James and his Lakers in the 2023 Western Conference finals just before the release of Shooting Stars, LeBron’s stoic acceptance of loss is a lesson he learned as a child. The lesson is this; It’s nice to be the King, but it’s better to remember that he became King with the help and love of family, friends, and teammates. This is the story of Shooting Stars and it is a story well told.


Shooting Stars streams on Peacock starting June 2