Honestly, I was not too enthusiastic about this assignment. There has been a surge of basketball-centric movies these days (not counting Ben Affleck’s masterful Air), and after covering two of those over the span of three weeks, I was sort of worn out. If you are wondering, I am talking about the Sweetwater biopic and the latest White Men Can’t Jump remake here, both of which I found underwhelming. Naturally, a LeBron James movie didn’t seem like a good bet under the circumstances. But after watching Shooting Stars, I have to say that I got third time lucky with this sub-genre.
Even if you are completely oblivious to anything regarding the sport of basketball, unless you are living under a rock, the name LeBron James should sound familiar. Regarded as one of the modern-day basketball legends, James is not just a sportsman; he is a hugely popular brand. The man has literally been everywhere—from books to documentaries to hosting SNL, producing movies, and even owning a part of Liverpool Football Club, with James being a producer himself, making one of those generic “biopics of a superstar” sort of movies would have been a safe choice. Instead, we get a movie about his childhood friends and the ups and downs of their lives. “Shooting Stars,” which is based on a 2009 memoir written by James himself, is not beyond the usual formula of a sports movie. But thanks to everyone doing most of the things right, it is a genuinely entertaining watch.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Shooting Stars’?
Willie, Lil Dru, LeBron, and Sian are best friends who eat, play, and dream basketball together. The four of them are part of the Shooting Stars team, which is coached by Dru’s father, Dru Joyce Senior. From this point on, I am going to use “Dru” for the son and “Coach Dru” for the father to avoid any confusion. The rule of thumb for making an engaging movie based on real-life events is to have a script exciting enough to keep the audience hooked to the story, despite them knowing what’s going to happen. “Shooting Stars” gets those basics right and then infuses snappy editing, a cool soundtrack, and very realistically choreographed basketball into its narrative. In about five minutes, the kids grow into teenagers who are about to go to high school. In their Akron neighborhood, the local school, Buchtel, seems like an obvious choice, especially with its tailor-made basketball program, which should be the main deal. But the “Fab Four” had other plans.
Why Do The ‘Fab Four’ Choose To Go To A Catholic School?
When Coach Dru takes the “Fab Four” to Buchtel’s basketball coach Sam for an initial meet and greet, Sam shows his intention to put Lil Dru on the junior varsity team due to his short stature. Dru doesn’t take it well and starts to look for alternatives. Thanks to a divine intervention, popular college football coach Keith Dambrot is hired by the St. Vincent-St. Mary (SVSM) school in Akron around the same time, about which Dru finds out from a newspaper. Dru goes to see Dambrot all by himself. Despite Dambrot coming off as a no-nonsense, mean person, Dru manages to impress him with his basketball skills. With a little bit of effort, Dru manages to convince his three other friends to go to SVSM instead of Butchel so that the four of them can play together on the same team. Their parents, including Coach Dru, decide to support the kids. But the decision to abandon Buchtel doesn’t sit right with their black neighborhood.
How Does The ‘Fab Four’ Find Their Place On The Svsm Basketball Team?
While Dru didn’t need to put in much work to get his friends to follow him to SVSM, breaking into the basketball team appears to be quite a task for him and his friends. They do manage to cross the hurdle of Dambrot’s grilling trial process, but getting actual game time seems like a distant dream. In spite of the senior players not performing that well, Dambrot continues to keep the “Fab Four” on the bench.
However, the situation soon changes thanks to a casual but very competitive game where the “Fab Four” school the “under-performing” seniors of their team. Dambrot manages to catch all the action, and after a meeting with Coach Dru, he starts to put the “Fab Four” on the court, one by one. The narrative soon fast-forwards to several months later, and the new kids have taken high school basketball to a whole different level by now. Everyone swears by the SVSM team and their four new players. The “Fab Four” soon becomes the “Fab Five” with the inclusion of Romeo Travis, who initially comes off as a potential enemy but eventually becomes best friends with the other four. In a game against Buchtel, SVSM initially struggles and falls behind on points. When Coach Dambrot tries to take off Dru, he refuses to get off the court. That does help SVSM by the end, as Dru single-handedly wins the game by scoring the final 18 points for the team all by himself.
For most of the first half, Dru feels like the main character of the movie, which, in my opinion, works in the movie’s favor. Not to mention, Caleb McLaughlin’s (popularly known as Lucas from Stranger Things) performance in the role deserves a lot of credit for elevating the character to a whole other level. It was so satisfying to see Dru giving it back to the same school that once rejected him for his height.
How Does LeBron Get Popular?
As I have already mentioned, LeBron is pretty much the second fiddle for the first hour of the movie. Of course, he is an integral part of the “Fab Four” (eventually the Five), but Willie and Dru get more focus than him. But with the SVSM high school basketball team getting more popular, LeBron also develops himself into a better player. His towering height and eagerness to learn further help him. As SVSM keeps flying high, LeBron’s popularity takes a meteoric rise.
The character of Savannah, LeBron’s real-life wife, is introduced. The two of them meet at a party and take an instant liking to each other. It eventually blossoms into a relationship. I thought this arc was pretty bland in comparison to the rest of the movie. Not that there was any lack of effort, as we see how Savannah struggles with LeBron’s popularity when a fan takes so much time with him—their ice cream melts into a milkshake.
Does The Growing Popularity Get To LeBron?
I thought it was pretty bold of this movie to show how LeBron, still a teenager, is getting influenced by fame. Before a very important game against Oak Hills, the still-no. 1 team in the State Championship, LeBron gets invited to a party, which he attends. As a result of that, he fails to perform on the court the next day, and SVSM pays the price. However, after getting an earful from Coach Dru, LeBron does look into his activities and eventually gets back to his usual rhythm.
But the more his “superstar in the making” status gets fuelled, the farther he grows apart from his four friends. It becomes all about him, which starts to show on court. At a game against a much weaker team with a name like Roger Bacon (no offense to the English philosopher), LeBron and Dru have a heated argument that turns into a physical scuffle. Thanks to a locker room intervention initiated by Romeo, the team and LeBron agree to be professional on the court. That does work out, as we see SVSM convincingly winning their next game with the Fab Five very much on song. But right after the match, life takes an ugly turn for LeBron as he gets suspended for the rest of the season by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. The reason behind that is accepting a sports jersey from the same fan who once caused trouble between Savannah and LeBron—yes, referring to the ice cream melting thing.
‘Shooting Stars’ Ending Explained: How Does LeBron Make It Up To His Friends?
With a little digging, I found out that LeBron James’ suspension by the OHSAA did make it to the national news, including The New York Times. He accepted two jerseys at a Cleveland store in exchange for a photo of him, which would eventually be hung on the store’s wall. The movie tweaks this a little by making it a random fan on the street and one jersey, but that is negligible.
LeBron keeps attending SVSM games, now as a spectator. Even without him, SVSM continues to play like a well-oiled machine, with Dru inspiring the pack to prove their worthiness in the absence of their missing superstar. While LeBron seems visibly frustrated with the OHSAA’s ridiculous judgment for stopping him from playing ball, his sadness is revealed to have originated from a different place. In one of the best-done scenes of the movie, LeBron asks his mother if she had friends during her high school years. She says yes, but also mentions how they faded away, which is a very normal thing. I think this is particularly important here because, in a way, this movie is a testimonial of how LeBron James made it a point not to let his four other friends fade away from his life.
The movie explicitly makes it clear that the OHSAA judgment never got in the way of LeBron’s future as a professional sportsman. Yet we see him in front of the OHSAA authority, appealing to them to reconsider their judgment on him. He is genuinely sorry about what happened and is more than willing to pay for the jersey. The OHSAA officials are dumbfounded by this, considering not playing high school basketball is not at all going to affect James in any way, at least career-wise, as I have mentioned already. But it obviously matters to LeBron more than you would ever imagine. Because no matter how far he has come and will eventually go in the foreseeable future, nothing has made him happier than playing basketball with his four friends. No one has made him feel safer than Coach Dru. If he doesn’t get to play competitive games with his friends for one final time, it will remain a lifelong regret. No amount of money or success can make up for that. In the manner LeBron put it all out, OHSAA not overturning their decision would have probably been the highest order of cruelty. Fortunately, that does not happen. LeBron James goes to play in the State Championship final against the same Oak Hill, and this time he makes it count. James and his friends win the trophy. But most importantly, LeBron finds his way back to his friends.
I didn’t know who LeBron was. My basketball knowledge is limited to being familiar with the big names, including James himself, and repeated viewings of “One Tree Hill.” So for people like me, Shooting Stars is like an introduction to the legend. I still have no idea what the man’s really like beyond his superheroic abilities on the basketball court. But the decision to make a movie that is more about his friends than his own legacy does tell a lot. And after seeing the movie, I think we can all agree that it was no gimmick. This movie was as much about Willie McGee, Sian Cotton, Romeo Travis, and Lil Dru Joyce as it was about LeBron James. It was LeBron’s way of telling his friends how special they were to him and how much it mattered.