Kris Belman's 'More Than a Game' Recalls the Team Behind LeBron's High-School Success
Reigning NBA MVP LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers may have lost Tuesday’s season opener to the Boston Celtics, but the superstar forward, 24, doesn’t come up short on the big screen, where director Kris Belman’s More Than a Game documents the remarkable journey James and his Vincent-St. Mary High School teammates in Akron, Ohio, took to become national basketball champions in 2003.
Although James, a five-time NBA All Star, is indisputably the film’s strongest selling point, More Than a Game devotes equal time to his closest teammates (“The Fab Four,” later joined by a fifth, Romeo Travis) and their levelheaded coach, Dru Joyce. For Belman, then 21, the project began to take shape when he was asked to create a 10-minute short film for his documentary class at Loyola Marymount University.
An Akron native himself, Belman was aware of James and teammates Little Dru, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee, who had played together five years before enrolling as a group at predominantly white Vincent-St. Mary. He was excited by their success, but as an aspiring filmmaker he was more interested in exploring their off-the-court friendship.
Does it frustrate him to hear More Than a Game commonly referred to as “the LeBron James movie”?
“It bothers me a little bit because if people think it’s the LeBron James story, they might think they can see it on ESPN, or get the 20-minute version somewhere else,” Belman says. “It’s a double-edged sword, though, because without LeBron, we could never have marketed the film the way we did.
“To me, this is Coach Dru’s story. He’s the fullest character and the star of the film. And as a storyteller, nothing makes me happier than the prospect of non-sports fans going to see my movie. Will they go if they think it’s the LeBron James story? I don’t know.”
So far, response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, even among those unmoved by sports on any level. Following its first public screening at September’s Toronto Film Festival – attended by James and company, who broke down in tears as the lights went up – More Than a Game has scored with critics and at the box office.
Not bad for what began as a student film and turned into a labor of love. Belman cites his dogged commitment to the project as the reason James, his former teammates and Coach Dru were so eager to help promote it.
“I was only supposed to attend one practice and stop filming after that,” says Belman, whose documentary chronicles the group's final two seasons together and the media circus surrounding them after James appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in February 2002. “Everything else was borrowed time. But gaining the trust of everyone involved was a constantly evolving, six-year process.
“I spent a lot of time with the kids back then, in their homes and on the town, and there was definitely a level of trust that developed. But I think the fact that I’m still here, six years later, trying to tell the same story, not focusing on LeBron, is what they respect most. That's why they've continued to talk with me since then. So that respect is what made the film possible.”