Eight years ago, a Loyola Marymount University-Los Angeles sophomore by the name of Kris Belman approached St. Vincent-St. Mary varsity basketball coach Dru Joyce about making a documentary about his nationally ranked team. LeBron James, a high school phenom whom Sports Illustrated deemed "the chosen one," led the Fighting Irish as they played top-rated teams across the country. A Jesuit-educated guy from Akron, Belman impressed Joyce with his candor. And even though practices at that time were closed to the public, Joyce gave Belman access.
"The only reason we let Kris in was because he was a student and was working on a class project," says Joyce. "We felt like he had no ulterior motive. We allowed him in because of that. We didn't expect him to stay around as long as he did. Now, we're happy that he did."
Belman caught up with the guys during their senior year, when they were already celebrities within the sports world, and delved into their backgrounds to find out how they got to that point. He researched the life story not only of James, who was raised by a poor single mother, but also the rest of the Fab Five (Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee and Romeo Travis), most of whom had played ball together since fourth grade.
"I was an aspiring filmmaker when I started the movie and figured that the easiest thing for me to do would be to focus on LeBron, because that's the easiest subject to tackle," says Belman, who cites documentaries Spellbound and Murderball as influences. "But like anything, you can't just do the easiest thing. It was important to me to make a more challenging movie. I love it when people come out of the film talking about [Little] Dru's three-point extravaganza his freshman year."
Belman compiled home videos and behind-the-scenes footage to tell the story of how James and crew went from playing at a Salvation Army gym with linoleum floors to filling arenas around the country. But More Than a Game isn't just a basketball film. It's about how five boys become men under the guidance of an inspirational coach. And it's dramatic too, especially when we see the conflicts that flare up between Coach Joyce and his son, and when James is suspended during his senior season.
"I think sports is a great teacher, as far as life lessons go," says Joyce. "It's about adversity and how you handle it."
When the team is losing at halftime in the final game of their senior year, Dru doesn't just draw up some new plays on his chalkboard. He tells the guys that they need to think about the legacy they want to leave.
"We had heard every 'x' and 'o' play you could ever hear," says James. "Coach Dru had set us up for life afterwards, so it wasn't hard to adjust to life after high school. The other guys went off to college, and I went off to the NBA. It was difficult for some of the teammates because we were used to that bond and chemistry. But as far as life, we were well prepared. A lot of people were scared after high school. Not us."