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Originally published Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'More Than a Game': A bond beyond basketball shapes boys into men

"More Than a Game" is an absorbing and inspirational documentary about five basketball players (one of whom is LeBron James) who grew up together with passion for life and for the game, both on and off the court.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'More Than a Game,' a documentary directed by Kristopher Belman. 102 minutes. Rated PG for brief mild language and incidental smoking. Several theaters; see Page 17.

"More Than a Game" continues the tradition of basketball documentaries that create genuine excitement as well as an immediate sense of personal engagement by focusing on the individual stories behind the competition.

Like "Hoop Dreams" and "Heart of the Game," this absorbing and inspirational tale of five kids who played on and off the court together as little boys right through several championship seasons in high school is utterly captivating for the humanity at its core.

It helps the movie's clout (and no doubt its marketing appeal) that one of them grows up to be NBA superstar LeBron James.

Along with James, Dru Joyce, Willie McGee, Sian Cotton and Romeo Travis (who became the group's fifth musketeer slightly later) began playing in a Salvation Army gym in Akron, Ohio, under the reluctant coaching of Dru's father. As unshakable friends and confidants, they stayed together for the rest of their teenage careers, eventually bringing entirely unexpected national glory to Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School team.

Director Kristopher Belman began covering the team when he was a film student in 2003 during their final high-profile season, and he fleshed out the back story of their association by sifting through a ton of home video and archival material. It's all ingeniously integrated into the narrative with a deft eye for building drama. Even though the source material doesn't always look so great, the story develops a skillful arc through precise editing and a delightfully creative use of sound and graphic design.

There's lots of drama in the father/son, coach/player struggle and the wacky shenanigans everyone went through when James was bestowed international celebrity status during his high-school career. What remains at the heart of this game, however, is the engrossing relationships among the large ensemble cast, and the devoted passion that made the game of basketball so much more for all of them.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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