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4.6 out of 5 stars
More Than A Game
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The title More Than a Game is more than a little cliché, and the most basic summary of this documentary's premise does little to refute that initial impression: the story of five inner city youths who forge something beyond friendship while pursuing their high school hoop dreams. But the journey of the "Fab Five" who made up the core of the St. Vincent-St. Mary basketball team in Akron, Ohio earlier in the decade is not exactly your average sports saga, filled with extraordinary characters and equally extraordinary circumstances that Hollywood could craft no better in any feature script. Any filmmaker blessed with such serendipitous narrative riches would be content to simply recount the not-so-tall tale, but director Kristopher Belman takes it an added step: bringing the larger-than-life back down to a universally relatable scale.

Figures hardly come more larger-than-life than LeBron James, the Fighting Irish alum who (as the world over has come to know) first caught national sports media attention during his high school stint and has since become one of most celebrated and recognizable stars in all of sports, let alone in basketball. With the knowledge of James's ultimate NBA fairy tale fate, the temptation would be to focus the film solely on his rise, but his story is duly treated as but one of the threads borne out of what was originally the "Fab Four"--James, "Little" Dru Joyce III, Willie McGee, and Sian Cotton, whom we see in some rare home video honing their individual skills and team chemistry from way back when they were pre-teens. Playing in the Amateur Athletic Union, the quartet lived up to the "Shooting Stars" team name, building on their local Ohio successes to shock observers in a national tournament down in Florida; however, the four's first taste of national success will turn out to be just shy of complete victory.

And, like most lives, that bittersweet experience reflects the greater journeys followed in More Than a Game. Given the presence of James, one expects this to be a film full of triumphs, but what make those resonate even more strongly in the end are the relatable setbacks, obstacles, and shake-ups that occur along the way. In fact, falling into that last category are two people who will come to complete the "fab" family and help lift the entire unit to new heights, Romeo Travis and "Little Dru"'s father, Dru Joyce II. But long before those heights, each initially enters the basketball picture under less than ideal circumstances: Travis in sophomore year at St. Vincent-St. Mary's, where his surly demeanor quickly clashes with the core quartet, who had just led the school to a championship the previous season; Joyce II in junior year, who takes over the head coaching position from a decorated predecessor despite minimal experience. How the four manage to evolve into a "Fab Five" and, above all else, a family of six headed by Coach Dru proves not so much a result of their hard work on the hardwood than of the growth they each must undergo as people.

The film's structure reinforces that latter point. Instead of going the standard route of going through each person's background at the top, Belman gives the individual histories at appropriate, organic moments within the overall narrative. While this approach does mean that some events early in the film unfold without a complete familiarity with or understanding of all of the players, spreading the stories out pays off in a couple of respects. Instead of blurring into a muddle, it allows each person to have their time to shine and their respective stories breathe and remain clear to the viewer. But even more effectively, the backstories are used beyond mere exposition to illuminate certain key events that affect the group as a whole--further underscoring the greater idea of how various circumstances seemingly centered on one person can cause repercussions for the collective. Chief among these developments, of course, is the hysteria and hype that arises around James after he is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, suddenly catapulting midwestern high school hoops into a nationally televised arena. The film admirably does not downplay any of the well-documented dramas and tensions that then sprung forth from James's literally overnight fame, but instead of wallowing in sensational celebrity scandal, Belman keeps these developments in their proper perspective in regards to the bigger picture: how they affected the entire group and what they all aimed to accomplish.

That is an example of how and why More Than a Game works--showing the grounded, real-life terms and consequences of an increasingly surreal chain of events. Only a select few people can completely relate to being blessed with natural athletic ability and talent at such a young age; even fewer still would relate to being suddenly thrust into the media spotlight and scrutiny. But underneath that gloss and glamour is the classic tale of boys growing into men, of people learning the importance of the greater group glory over the individual shine, with the distinctly drawn personalities of each of the five offering a fairly diverse set of entry points for the viewer to understand and relate. Ironically enough, in balancing his attention between everyone on the team, Belman offers deeper, uncommonly intimate insight into the film's marquee name; one is a witness what is perhaps James's most critical, formative period through the eyes of those who not only knew him best, but had a huge hand in shaping the superstar "King James" so familiar to sports fans today. But if lifting-oneself-from-a-hard-knock-childhood-through-big-dreams is fairly commonplace film fodder, More Than a Game's trump card comes in an arc that is not as commonly told and even more empowering: the story of Coach Dru, as the film is just as much about him coming into his own. If James's story confirms the prevailing contemporary notion that one's opportunity for success comes--and then passes--only while one is young, that of the elder Dru counters that, rather poignantly proving that one does not have to settle for comfort and complacency, for one's true calling and self-actualization may not arrive until later in life.

That statement may make More Than a Game sound pretentious, but such weightier ideas are delivered in a very accessible and entertaining package. The Fab Five make an affable and appealing, funny and fun group, and Belman accordingly has fun, fighting the trap of talking head-and-news-clip documentary monotony and keeping the film visually dynamic. Beyond some snazzy (but not overdone) graphic work that gives the documentary staples of old photos and newspaper headlines some motion and flair, Belman also manages to lend some variety to the basketball footage, with each pivotal game edited and presented in their own subtly distinct way; for instance, some visual repetitiveness is avoided by simply not shooting scoreboards in the same way. Belman even has a little fun with the standard closing "where are they now" text cards without resorting to overwrought editorializing or labored stabs at profundity.

While it certainly helps to be familiar with the game of basketball and a fan of the sport to enjoy More Than a Game, it is far from necessary. Basketball is what brought the Fab Five and Coach Dru together and was and remains a shared passion, but the game is almost incidental to the larger idea: not only that those from not exactly the most privileged of backgrounds can indeed dream and succeed, but that one doesn't necessarily do it by oneself. Not looking out for number one but instead always looking out for each other is what made Coach Dru and the Fab Five what they were as a team, who they have become as people today--and why their story and this film are so richly moving and inspirational.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2010
Format: DVD
Let me start off my review by saying that I have not been an active fan of basketball for several years now. I wound up watching this film because it received excellent reviews and my students are always talking about Lebron James, so I took it as an excellent opportunity to learn more about this young man at the center of all the hype. Having watched the dvd, I am just amazed at not only the skill and athleticism displayed by Mr. James, but the caliber of the character demonstrated by him, his teammates and his coaches. This is more than a basketball documentary , it's a life-lesson documentary that provides the added bonus of amazing footage of someone whose skills as a youngster clearly out-ranked many who play the sport professionally (to say the least, Mr. James is clearly most worthy of the praise heaped upon him). If you have kids, get More than a Game and use it as a sounding board for honest discussions with your kids. If you just love sports, get it because the footage is spectacular.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I have to admit, I am not a big fan of basketball. BUT because of my son's love of basketball, I brought this and a few other DVD's which showcases his favorite NBA players. (Note: I am still learning the techniques of basketball.)

The highlight and pivotal point of this film, "More Than A Game," was when the team (St. Vincent-St. Mary) coach gave a serious speech to his young men and devout his faith in prayers (along with them) in a call to the Almighty Saviour. Both messages developed a strength of character to the young men whose lives are expectedly in a vacuum filled with wild excitements (promiscuity, alcohol and more). This to me was a turnaround for the young men. Although it was the coach's last and final year to train them (in their last year of high school), Coach Dru Joyce and the team thought they would win the championship. They didn't! BUT, because of their hardwork, faith, character (thanks to Coach Dru Joyce), friendship and love, these young men pulled it off and TODAY we still see the excitement some of them display. What an incredible film. I'm happy to have attain it as a gift; a gift my son will (and has said) will treasure forever. He's inspired by this great documentary. Great work! Bravo to the executors for producing a fabulous history of the St. Vincent-St.Mary's basketball team, "Irish".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I don't care who you are, this is a great movie. It's inspiring, it has real drama, and it's all true. It's nice to learn more about Lebron James, but this isn't the Lebron James Story; it's about friendship, family, faith, teamwork, and sacrifice. It's about a group of inner city kids who play basketball, but it doesn't rely on sex, drugs, gangs, murder, or even profanity. It's just great storytelling, without embellishment or added "spice."

I coach tennis at an exclusive private school in California and I'm actually going to show this movie to my girls. Even though the settings are worlds apart, the movie's message is universal and I know my players will love the story and they'll learn from it. Meanwhile, More Than A Game has shown me how to be a better coach, and I'll have an excuse to watch it again, too.

The fact that director Kristopher Belman was a college student when he began the project makes it all the more remarkable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
If you are a Lebron James fan or know one this is the DVD for you. The title states it all.
Gives you an insight into what makes the man you happens to be one great basketball player!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2010
Format: DVD
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2010
Format: DVD
A huge Cavaliers fan, I saw this film to learn more about LeBron James. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this touching documentary is less about him, than about a group of close childhood friends that developed into a hugely successful high school basketball team due in large part to their fondness and respect for each other, as well as the dedication of a caring coach.

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the movie (with eyes tearing up over the boys' triumphs and defeats), I also gained some unexpected insight into why "my Cavs" are currently the most successful team in the NBA - the players' camaraderie off the court and unselfishness on the court make them a team in the truest sense of the word.

July 2014 Update - Welcome home, LeBron!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
A great movie to watch with the whole family. My son picked it off the local video store shelf, just stumbled upon it while looking for something to watch. He is a big Cav's and LeBron fan already, so he was happily surprised with his find. I am not a huge b-ball fan, at least not since I was a kid and followed the Buffalo Braves! Anyway, I was mesmerized. You couldn't fabricate a better story. We were all on the edges of our seats, and it is a documentary! Just wish I hadn't missed all this when it happened. Wow! What a fantastic, and inspirational tale. My boys have new heros, and they came from the hood in Akron! Thank you for making this film. Wonderful stuff. We are attending our first Cavs game on 4/6/10..better late than never!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2010
Format: DVD
I thought it was going be about Lebron but it was actually about his friends. Yea hes a big part of the movie but you will learn about his fab 5 friends. If your a Lebron fan like I am you will enjoy the movie. You get to see old tapes of Lebron and get a little background information. Lebron still looks the same way, its funny see him as a kid and he sticks out at a young age.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
It tells the great story of a group of friends all from the same small city in Akron, Ohio that just happened to be very good basketball players that made it all the way thru high school playing together and just so happened to realize their dream along the way. It was not just about Lebron, but about the whole group. Highly recommended for any sports fan.
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