More than a movie, ‘More than a Game’

Nick Baker

Film tells story of five friends

In 1999 four kids from Akron who shared a love for basketball and an unwavering camaraderie enrolled at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron.

In four short years (and after the addition of one new cast member), this scrappy bunch went from a Salvation Army gym in downtown Akron to become high school basketball state champions.

The story unfolds with drama, conflict and captivating characters, which is not always a standard in documentaries.

“More Than a Game” offers a glimpse into something that people not only were not allowed to see; it was something they were never supposed to see.

By the time the “Fab Five” (LeBron James, Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee and Romeo Travis) reached their junior year, all practices were closed to the media, parents and everyone else but film director Kristopher Belman.

Belman’s dedication to the project came from his love for the city. He and coach Dru Joyce II both commented on how easily they could have sold the footage for a good amount of money, but he was committed to seeing the project through to the end — despite the outcome being unknown.

The film opens with dramatic narration by Dru II, as he says in a calm, reflective tone, “Basketball is a vehicle. It is not the end all, be all.”

The scene: It’s 2003 at the Value City Arena in Columbus, in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a high school basketball championship. In the locker room, the Fab Five listen to a speech delivered by their coach, arms interlocked at the elbows.

Following this scene is an array of shots of Akron.

That’s when it becomes clear — this film is not about LeBron James. This is a story about a team, a group of friends with a dream, and any clichés aside, the film is compelling and story-driven.

The beauty of “More Than a Game” is how naturally the story flows. Unlike some documentaries in which the documentarian becomes a central figure, this film rolled along as if there was no interference in the events whatsoever.

To describe the assembly of this film would be to say that Belman left his camera on in the path of an oncoming storm, and when the tornado touched down and sucked it up, the camera captured everything and survived to tell the story.

Nobody could be sure what the next scene would involve or how it would affect the story, and it seemed as if it were written by geniuses of sports drama.

The exclusive footage is accompanied by in-depth interviews that tell the story behind the scene, which is an interesting device for explaining how each individual dealt with the fame and the attention on top of trying to reach the pinnacle of high school basketball.

The commentary shows the products of maturity and reflection.

“We’re a lot more grounded right now,” James said at a press conference. “Back then we said we were like the Beatles, trying to be a rock band, you know? I was just the lead singer.”

Through this growth each individual becomes a compelling character and the relationships only serve to add depth to the story.

“I set out to tell a story about five friends and coach Dru,” Belman said. “That’s really what I told them since day one. I’m grateful and appreciative and proud to have kept it to that original vision.”

Contact features reporter Nick Baker at [email protected].