Sunday, October 28, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 28: More Than A Game

Just a few days left in my month long venture and I'm still excited to see a new doc title on the agenda.

There's so many great sports documentaries out there.  A wonderful way to learn, a wonderful way to become inspired and a great way to battle the television blahs.

It might take a bit of hunting and searching to track down some of these titles, but that's what makes some of these picks all the better.

Tonight's film - More Than A Game

More Than A Game (2008)
105 mins.
Rated: PG

"This documentary follows NBA superstar LeBron James and four of his talented teammates through the trials and tribulations of high school basketball in Ohio and James' journey to fame."  (source: imdb)

I hit the library to borrow this dvd.  The case was battered, but she played fine.

When I first saw this dvd, I was thinking this would be just a LeBron James highlight show.  But I was wrong.  This was the story of a team of friends who grew up playing basketball together.  Each get their own time to shine on this doc.

I guess it goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover.

The doc starts at the end.  It's the 2003 High School National Championship game.  A chance for the guys to become one of the greatest high school teams of all time.  We hear the coach speak his final words to the boys before the game begins.

We get an introduction to the players.  A great montage of photos and cutouts to give the story some style and production value.  A group of four kids who grew up together - playing basketball - and becoming great friends.

They were so good as a team back then (grade 8ish) that they became a travel team in and around Akron, Ohio.  In 1999, their last tournament before they were to head to high school, they made it to the finals of a huge national tournament.  They lost to an all-star team from California on a last second miss by LeBron.

One of the kids, Dru Joyce, was very undersized.  He knew he would have a tough time getting any playing time at the local high school.  He decided to attend St. Vincent/St. Mary's High School since it was coached by Keith Dambrot, who saw talent in Dru during a summer camp.

The cohesiveness and chemistry of the four teammates was so huge that they all decided to stick together and attend St. Vincent/ St. Mary's.  Dru's dad, who coached the kids up to that point, was brought in as an assistant and really coached his son hard.  He didn't want the perception to be that his kid was getting preferential treatment.

During their sophomore season, the fifth member of this group transfered to St. V.  Romeo Travis was not one to make friends, he was there to win. His attitude at first created a distance between him and the rest of the team.

With higher expectations, the Fighting Irish from St. V reached their second straight state championship.

That off-season, Coach Dambrot left to take a coaching job in college.  Coach Joyce, hesitant at first, took over the job as head coach.  He knew that if the system crumbled, he would be the one to take the blame.  If successful, he was just carrying on what Coach Dambrot brought in.  It could have been a lose-lose situation.

In the third year for these kids, they were dominant.  LeBron really started to show his stuff on the court.  He eventually landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  Everybody wanted a piece of the phenomenon.  Tickets to their games were being scalped for hundreds of dollars (these were high school kids remember).  Their games were moved to bigger arenas to accommodate.

There was a tremendous swagger that came about as a result.  They started ignoring the coach, partying and just underestimating their opponents.  They managed to still win...until they hit the state championship finals.  Their lack of teamwork, loss of composure and overall poor effort cost them.

The following season, there was a new direction - everybody was on the same page - working together.

During this journey, the doc breaks away to focus on one of the Fab Five. Giving a bit of backstory to who these kids were growing up.  All were interviewed extensively for the doc and it was nice to see.

At this point, it was Willie McGee, who would be told he wasn't starting during his senior year, these personal stories really create individual identities for each player.  This allows for a much more thorough and dynamic doc as opposed to the one-dimensional LeBron show.

During the senior year, this Fab Five started receiving national exposure. ESPN was broadcasting games.  They soundly beat the number one ranked team and were a force to be reckoned with.  They went from starting the season ranked 23rd to becoming the number one team in the country.

LeBron James was receiving a ton of national exposure - and a lot of negative press.  The pressures were starting to build.  At one point he was accused of receiving gifts, thus making him ineligible to the team for the rest of the season.  The team had to play on without James.

It was at about this point (about an hour and 15 minutes in) that my interest was waning.  It's been a bit of a long doc to this point and I knew there was still a half hour to go.

The rest of the team met the challenge and overcame the adversity of not having LeBron play.  They won their first game without him.  It was only one game as LeBron took the matter to court and was reinstated.

The final chapter, nine years in the making.  These friends growing up were going to play for the national championship as seniors.  Their final game together.  Down at the half, they rallied around their coach's words.  There's been a ton of footage in this doc I've just realized.  Cameras following these kids around, lots of archival photos and home videos.  Quite the undertaking.  I'm sure more than a couple felt this story was special and needed to be documented.

The team goes out and comes back to win the national championship.  Each kid pours out their tribute to 'Coach Dru' who helped guide these kids through this part of their lives.

This was a better doc than I expected.  At times I wondered why this story was so special and needed to be told, at times I thought this was nothing more than just the LeBron show, but for the most part the story was engaging (thanks in large part to Coach Dru's interviews....he was a great thread in this doc).

The footage was pretty solid.  Like I mentioned, lots of archive footage.  Each player was also interviewed for this doc and that paid off in spades.

I left this doc feeling good for these kids, but as I write this, the feeling is already fading.  It doesn't have that lasting effect like some other titles I have watched this past month.

A solid watch and a good option for the basketball fans out there.

3 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

Rotten Tomatoes

LA Times

New York Times

Up next...Knuckleball (I'm renting it from iTunes...let's see how that works)

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