DVD Review: More Than a Game (2009)

July 8, 2010 in Basketball, Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

The question on everybody’s lips right now is which team free agent and the NBA’s reigning 2-time MVP Lebron James will sign with.  Will the King stay with his hometown Cavs, or will he go join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami?  Will he join forces with Amare Stoudemire in New York, or will he team up with Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer in Chicago?  It has become such big news that ESPN is televising Lebron’s announcement live on Thursday night (US time).

Of course, Lebron James is no stranger to publicity, having been anointed “The Chosen One” since his high school days, as documented in the film More Than a Game.  I had heard about this documentary directed by Kris Belman last year when it was first released, but had forgotten all about it until I came across the DVD last week.

So was it any good?

I’d say it’s a “must” for Lebron fans, a “worth watching” for NBA/basketball fans in general, and a “can skip” for Lebron haters.

More Than a Game follows Lebron and his four best friends, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee (the “Fab Five”) through their trials and tribulations as their team, Saint Vincent-Saint Mary (from previously little known Akron, Ohio), played their way to national stardom.

It’s a coming-of-age story, a rags-to-riches story, and a perseverance-pays-off story full of excellent basketball footage from the time when the friends were just a bunch of poor but talented pre-teen kids having fun in an old gym.

The best part about the film is that it’s NOT a promotional vehicle for Lebron (not that he needed one).  While Lebron does get more attention towards the end when his name took off on a national scale and he struggled with eligibility issues, the film divides time equally between all members of the Fab Five and their coach, Dru Joyce II (father of one of the players).  At various times throughout the 105-minute running time, we received wonderful insights into each of the six central characters, including their difficult backgrounds, their strengths, their flaws and their motivations.  As one of the kids said, they were all stars of a rock band — Lebron was just the lead singer.

The "Fab Five"

Thanks to the ubiquity of the hand held cam and the team’s relatively early rise to stardom, the film also had some ripping footage — not just on the basketball court but off it too.  Whether it’s Lebron dunking as an eighth grader (I think) or him goofing around with his buddies at school, this film had it all.

However, to be honest, More Than a Game should have been a much better documentary.  All the elements were there.  You had a future NBA superstar in the making, already heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition from the first pieces of grainy footage.  You had a team full of African American players from broken families who were considered traitors by their community because they joined a school with predominantly white students.  You had plenty of ups and downs, setbacks and glory.  You couldn’t write a more inspirational story than this one.

And yet, More Than a Game doesn’t quite get there in my opinion.  There is no narrator as the story is told entirely through archived footage, interviews and recorded monologues.  While this was effective in its own way (such as let us make up our own minds about the characters), the story does suffer as a result when it came to exposition and transition.

There were times when it felt as though pieces of the narrative were missing.  For instance, you got the feeling that all these kids did was play, sleep and breathe basketball, but then all of a sudden we find out that some of them actually played other sports too at an elite level and had to make a choice.  In another sequence we were led to believe that the kids hated a particular player on their team, and then shortly thereafter he apparently became one of their best friends without much of an explanation!  And for those who don’t understand it, the system of competitive youth basketball in American is rather confusing.  I found myself asking questions such as why are these kids playing in Division II if they were “the best”, or why they would be “national champions” if they won the “state championship”.  These are easily answered with a bit of self research, but it made me wish things were made clearer when I watched the film.

Overall, not a bad way to watch some highlights of young Lebron in action, and the background stories of all the central characters were inspiring to watch — but as a documentary, More Than a Game was not much more than average.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: Having watched this I sure hope Lebron stays in Cleveland and doesn’t go for the seemingly perfect situation in Miami.  I don’t think he’s guaranteeing himself any rings by choosing the Heat and it could backfire terribly.  He seems like a loyal guy, I think he would be best served creating his own legacy in the city that picked him.]