Landing on streamer Peacock on June 2, Shooting Stars recounts the Catholic high-school days of NBA star LeBron James and his tight-knit group of buddies/teammates.
The buddies are friends to this day, and the film demonstrates how tough but positive male role models and mentors — at home and on the court — and dedicated, strong-willed females helped shape their personal and professional lives.
What’s the Story of Shooting Stars?
Based on the book of the same name by James and Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger (and previously adapted into the doc More Than a Game), Shooting Stars begins in the ’90s, when 10-year-old LeBron meets his three hoops-loving pals in Akron, Ohio.
They’re overseen by Dru Joyce II (Wood Harris), father of one of the boys, and they dream of NBA stardom (spoiler alert, at least one makes it).
Four years later, the pals — who’ve dubbed themselves the Fab Four — threatened with being split up on the court, decide to take advantage of scholarships and varsity playing opportunities and go to a Catholic high school.
There, they come under the tutelage of a disgraced former college coach (Dermot Mulroney) who sees talent in the friends — and his own chance of redemption.
Adding one more pal to the group to become the Fab Five, the friends face challenges on the court and off, not the least of which is LeBron’s growing stardom and the threat of his ego outpacing his maturity.
But, he does have his dedicated mother (Natalie Paul) and no-nonsense girlfriend (Kaitlyn Nichol) — LeBron’s later wife — to keep his feet on the ground while he flies toward hoop stardom.
Playing LeBron is rookie actor Marquis “Mookie” Cook (a future forward for the University of Oregon). Co-starring are Caleb McLaughlin as Lil Dru Joyce; Khalil Everage as Sian Cotton; Avery S. Wills Jr. as Willie McGee, and Sterling “Scoot” Henderson as Romeo Travis.
Also starring are Algee Smith and Diane Howard.
Parents be warned — there is rough language in the film, and the use of the n-word during banter among the players.
Turning to a Priest/Athlete to Talk About Shooting Stars
To help analyze the film, I turned to college-sports fan — and former collegiate swimmer — Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C. He’s a colleague of mine at Family Theater Productions, and a USC film-school-educated filmmaker in his own right.
He is also in residence at a Los Angeles-area parish and works with the students in its K-12 co-ed parish school.
Questions in bold.
What do you think is the central message of this film for families?
Shooting Stars is the perfect film for Fathers’ Day. Of the four main character friends (also the starting five freshmen) only Lil Dru had his father, Dru Joyce, in the picture.
Beyond coaching the “Fab Four,” Dru served as influential father figure in his players’ lives, teaching them life lessons and opening his and his wife’s basement as a safe place for them to hang out.
The first high-school head coach instills into the young men the value of arduous work and fulfills an additional father role.
Did the film change anything you thought about LeBron James?
I remember very well the Sports Illustrated cover he appeared on while in high school. The story was very much about him and his athletic prowess.
Given the chance to tell his upbringing from his perspective, James fashioned the movie around his close friends he grew up with and that he remains close with to this day.
It’s a very relatable coming-of-age story that I was quite ignorant of.
Although the film centers on his basketball playing at a Catholic school, what other benefits do you think he got from attending it?
I’ve always considered LeBron more than just the basketball talent God gave him.
When he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers after his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, I knew it was less about chasing a championship and more so setting himself up for a second career in film and TV/streaming production.
Catholic school provides for wholistic human development. This is also where smaller, private schools can be at an advantage: if LeBron wasn’t personally involved in the arts, I’m sure he knew classmates that were.
In general, what do Catholic schools mean for underprivileged, especially urban, youth in terms of education and opportunity?
It’s getting a taste of college and university before one matriculates to that education level.
University studies, in the context it was intended, seeks to expose young people to other cultures, ways of thinking and all kinds of demographics that weren’t necessarily germane to the place they grew up in.
So, with the presence of Catholic schools, an underprivileged, urban youth can now rub shoulders with the well-to-do, suburban families that might be from another faith background.
That LeBron James skipped college for the NBA never bothered me. He had a university-type experience at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
LeBron and his childhood friends all had a measure of success. What does that mean for young people who see this?
Yes, they were successful, even beyond the game of basketball. Whether a young person knows it or not, the values of St. Joseph — working hard, watching over family, and serving as a father figure — shine through.
Image: Photo: Oluwaseye Olusa/Universal Pictures. © 2023 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
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