More Than a Game, the electrifying feature debut of Akron native Kris Belman, follows LeBron James and "The Fab Five" from their prizewinning league team to a senior year that ended with a national championship.
Spread out on a U-formation of couches in a suite at Toronto's Four Seasons last September, LeBron James and his former teammates from St. Vincent's-St. Mary's High School in Akron threw out the names of some of their favorite sports movies.
Dru Joyce III, sitting next to his father and former coach Dru Joyce Jr., likes Love and Basketball. Romeo Travis is a fan of Blue Chips. For Willie McGee, it's Above the Rim.
"That's not a basketball movie," James said, starting a good-natured argument. "That's like saying White Men Can't Jump is a basketball movie."
The things that brought the friends together up north were the Toronto International Film Festival and a basketball movie to call their own.
More Than a Game, the electrifying feature debut of Akron native Kris Belman, follows "The Fab Five" from their prizewinning league team to a senior year that ended with a national championship (the fifth, Sian Cotton, had to miss the trip to play football for North Canton's Walsh University).
After its world premiere in Toronto, where James was the toast of the town for hosting a public slam-dunk competition and one of the fest's hottest after-parties, the independently produced film generated immediate interest from the industry.
Still, it took until a few days before Thanksgiving for a distributor to sign on. Lionsgate Films, a leading indie company behind everything from Bill Maher's Religulous to the Saw franchise, has announced it will release Game in the fall of 2009.
According to Variety, the months-long delay was due to film representatives working to secure sponsors for marketing support, to ensure the movie would be seen by as many people as possible.
It's not the first smart move made by those behind the scenes. The very first would be Belman's decision to follow the ball team with a camera for a student film project. Another was his commitment to telling the full story of the Fab Five and their relationship with Coach Dru, particularly as national interest in James skyrocketed following his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
As Belman explained to a few reporters before we talked with players, "I went through several years of meeting with people who just wanted to buy the footage outright and put out a LeBron highlight reel. Nobody cared about the other stories."
"This story had the perfect arc of ending in a national championship," he added. "Not just great characters, but this amazing through line - these guys worked together for nine years and achieved what they'd sought for so long."
Had Belman sold out, he wouldn't have a crowd-pleasing industry calling card, and audiences wouldn't have his genuinely affecting illustration of how hard work and camaraderie pay off and attitude gets you nowhere. Once More Than A Game hits theaters, it's bound to be required viewing for high school ballers around the country.
Each of the former teammates stated a hope that viewers will remember their effort when they walk out of the theater.
"Instead of thinking we just woke up great basketball players, they get to see how we lost and went through some downs," said Joyce.
"I hope they get there's no shortcuts," Travis added. "Really work hard and focus on what you need to."
Picking up on that, James said, "We had this dream for a lot of years and we accomplished it the last time we ever played together. All dreams don't fade to black. [I hope] kids can realize if you set out a goal, whatever that may be, with hard work and dedication you can make it reality."
After taking a producing role on the documentary and forming the company Spring Hill Productions, a new goal for James appears to be movie work. He was mostly vague on the subject when pressed, saying he's up for the right opportunity.
But after one of his friends brought up a sequel to the Shaquille O'Neal genie movie Kazaam, James got definitive.
"Never," he said with a chuckle. "I would never play Kazaam."