Review: ‘Shooting Stars’ is a nostalgic LeBron James biopic honoring his childhood teammates

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Shooting Stars'

Merely mentioning LeBron James’ name triggers instant debate about whether or not he is the greatest basketball player of all time. This does a disservice to us all with a food fight of statistics vs. intangibles between die-hard legions of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain. Too often, we forget that James was once just a kid shooting hoops with his best friends like the rest of us.

That’s the underlying charm of the nostalgic, albeit somewhat unnecessary coming-of-age basketball biopic “Shooting Stars,” which premieres Friday on Peacock. What could have been a vanity project about LeBron with idolatry of the once and future King is instead a selfless celebration of his childhood best friends, feeling less like a ball hog and more like teamwork passing the ball around to take the open shot, which doesn’t swish but rattles in.

Based on James’ eponymous memoir co-written by Buzz Bissinger in 2009, the film opens with Young LeBron James and his AAU teammates on the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars in Akron, Ohio. They called themselves the Fab Four (later the Fab Five). No, they’ve never heard of The Beatles as the original “Fab Four.” Their heroes were the University of Michigan’s “Fab Five” of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.

Together, the tight-knit group goes on to win three state titles and one national championship for their Catholic high school, the St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish. However, fame has a price as James is singled out as the breakout star on the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN broadcasts of their high school games. Will the publicity go to James’ head? Will his teammates feel left behind? Or can they all put aside jealousy to remain friends?


Playing teenage LeBron is Marquis “Mookie” Cook, a real-life 5-star recruit who signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Oregon in the fall. Not only does Mookie look like young LeBron, he’s got the muscles to flex and the dunking skills to prove it. Likewise, NBA G League baller and upcoming NBA Draft prospect Sterling “Scoot” Henderson plays teammate Romeo Travis, who went on to become an assistant coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Surrounding these real-life talents is a trio of actors: Avery S. Wills Jr. (“Swagger”) as Willie McGee, who became athletic director at St. Vincent-St. Mary before joining the LeBron James Family Foundation; Khalil Everage (“Beats”) as Sian Cotton, who is currently the defensive-line coach for the St. Vincent-St. Mary football team; and Caleb McLaughlin (“Stranger Things”) as Lil Dru Joyce III, who went on to set records at the University of Akron.

Wood Harris (“The Wire”) plays Joyce’s father, Coach Dru Joyce II, a local legend who won seven state titles. Harris is no stranger to inspirational sports movies after “Remember the Titans” (2000) and “Creed” (2015). This time, his acting feels uncharacteristically forced at first before growing more realistic. Dermot Mulroney is perfectly cast as hardass coach Keith Dambrot, while Katlyn Nichol shines as LeBron’s future wife Savannah.

It’s all helmed by Baltimore, Maryland, filmmaker Chris Robinson, who earned an NAACP Image Award nomination for “The New Edition Story” (2017) and shared an Emmy nomination for the Kennedy Center’s “Mark Twain Prize for Dave Chappelle” (2019). He also directed TV episodes of “black-ish” (2020-2021) and “Woke” (2022) and co-directed ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary “The Greatest Mixtape Ever” about the And1 Mixtape.

You can feel this same sensibility in “Shooting Stars” with a dynamite soundtrack of late ’90s and early 2000s hip-hop. You’ll want to throw on your warm-up jersey as you hear Black Rob’s “Whoa,” Nas’ “Made You Look,” Onyx’s “Slam,” Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” and Archie Eversole’s “We Ready” featuring Bubba Sparxxx. In between, the instrumental moments are scored by Oscar-nominated composer Mark Isham (“A River Runs Through It”).

Robinson also crafts admirably realistic on-court action, which is more than most basketball flicks can say. He gets ultra flashy with drone shots soaring above the court, occasionally turning upside-down. Sometimes it’s too much with the camera appearing hooked to the actors’ bodies like the apparatus Darren Aronofksy used in “Requiem for a Dream” (2000), which worked for trippy drug sequences but makes the players movements feel unnatural here.

The script isn’t the most polished with title cards that appear at random. The first one is fine, “How it Began,” but we wait far too long before the next one. Down the stretch, these titles appear faster with “Junior Year,” “Senior Year,” “Payback’s a B*tch” and “How it Ended.” The title-card structure feels sloppy, pulling us out of the immersive experience each time they pop up. It would have been better to space them out equally or not use them at all.

In the end, this isn’t the type of movie that wins Oscars, nor is it a blockbuster that dominates the box office. After all, it’s dropping straight to Peacock, though today’s made-for-streaming films have more caché than old made-for-TV movies. This is a good one to play if you’re a high school teacher on a rainy day or a parent looking to inspire your kids with an after-school special. Try pairing it with the documentary “More than a Game” (2009).

Then, when your kids get old enough for R-rated comedy, remind them that LeBron is a pretty good movie star himself. No, I don’t mean “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (2021), I mean one of the best rom-coms of the past decade in Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck” (2015) starring Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, John Cena and James.

Until then, I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane — even if it’s someone else’s childhood memories. Only James can afford the luxury of having a movie made about his five youth-league teammates, but it’s a worthwhile effort that makes us reflect fondly on our own youth basketball teammates. My team’s jerseys didn’t read James, Joyce, Cotton, Travis and McGee. Ours read Fraley, McMurry, Hood, Trout and Fennington. How about you?

That’s the type of conversation this movie invites — not Jordan vs. LeBron.

3 stars

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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