November 6, 2023 – I am a big fan of LeBron James, who definitely plays the game of basketball the right way. I had heard the basic story on which this film is based (found in James' memoir of the same name, co-authored by Buzz Bissinger) but was surprised to discover the movie emphasizes James' friends more than it does James himself.
James grew up poor, in a single parent home, but he also had the support of three strong friends, and a coach who helped him a lot in his younger years. The three friends, are Sian Cotton (played by Khalil Everage), Willie McGee (played by Avery Wills), a hardy ally and Dru Joyce III (Caleb McLaughlin), whose dad Dru II (Wood Harris of “Remember the Titans”) coaches their AAU team, the Shooting Stars.
The movie (now streaming on Peacock Premium) opens with the boys as 10-year-olds (Sir Myles plays young LeBron, Ascen Lomack plays young Lil Dru, Kaden Amari Anderson plays Young Sian and Thomas Shaw III plays young Willie McGee) growing up together in Akron, Ohio. The boys are all good players, who name themselves the “Fab Four” after the famed University of Michigan “Fab Five” of 1990-91.
The story later skips ahead to high school. The basketball coach at the boys chosen school, Buchtel, will not promise to immediately place Dru on the school's varsity basketball team because of his diminutive size, so Dru goes to see former college coach Keith Dambrot (Dermot Mulroney of “The Family Stone”) now the coach at a local Catholic school to plead his case. Dambrot says Dru can play on the varsity as long as he brings his three friends with him.
The other boys do not want to go to the Catholic school because they will feel out of place in a private school populated mainly by white students, but they have promised each other to stick together through high school, so they follow Dru's lead and agree to go to St. Vincent–St. Mary High School. Fans of Buchtel are not pleased with their decision, calling them traitors.
Dambrot quickly learns that the “Fab Four” freshman are not only his best players, but they are good enough to turn his average high school team into one of the best teams in the whole country. Word gets out about the transformed St. Vincent–St. Mary's basketball team and the white hot light of publicity begins to change the life of everyone involved with the team.
Of course, LeBron James, with his size, quickness and strength, quickly becomes the most famous person on the team, with a cover shot on Sports Illustrated. This kind of personal publicity threatens to tear the old friends apart, as it goes to James' head. His fame, and his decision to skip college, also creates friction with his girlfriend, Savannah (Katlyn Nichol of the “Black-ish” TV series).
This movie is similar to other sports-centered biographical dramas, but it is also different in that LeBron James, and even basketball itself, both are largely benched in order to emphasize the main story about how the power of friendship, teamwork and family can help people overcome life's challenges. Ultimately, that is the central story that gets the playing time in this movie.
Strong acting performances, highlighted by the charismatic Caleb McLaughlin as Dru, and Wood Harris as Dru's wise, compassionate father, power this film along, aided by the sure hand of director Chris Robinson (of the “Black-ish” TV series). This film rates a B.
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