By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
The year is 2001. Lenny Cooke is the #1 basketball player in the nation. Above Amare Stoudemire. Above Carmelo Anthony. Above. LeBron. James.
Yes, that is a thing that happened.
So, why don’t you know who Lenny Cooke is? Lenny Cooke attempts to answer that question, both for us and perhaps even for the film’s subject himself.
One potential lesson from this film… maybe don’t let a documentary crew follow you if you’re a high school basketball blue chipper from an inner city school.
Those Hoop Dreams can turn on ya.
What Lenny Cooke does extremely well is convey the nuts and bolts of being in his position, the weirdness and abstract nature of it, how everyone wants a piece of you. For an inner city kid without any strong role models in his life, it’s no wonder he’s susceptible to bad advice and the allure of so many at-your-fingertips temptations.
This film is heartbreaking in more ways than one- you begin to see him lose focus even on the court, as incredible talent begins to be betrayed to confidence and focus. The scene of him going toe to toe with a teenage LeBron James, at first even dominating him and then being worn down progressively until he’s on the wrong end of last-second basket is like watching the air slowly leak out of a punctured balloon.
Lenny Cooke doesn’t end at dreams deferred, but also delves into the regrets, blame games, and struggle to recapture his glory days as he hangs with kids he shared the court with, kids like Joakim Noah who are now NBA stars.
The final scene is very evocative as Lenny talks to his younger, slacking self, and achieves a type of catharsis perhaps only digital wizardry can deliver.
Lenny Cooke doesn’t shy away from showing some of his philandering, his too soon son, and how Vegas agreed with him a bit too particularly, but it doesn’t really delve into how he’s living the big life perhaps a bit larger than he can/should at the moment, or where he’s getting the means to do so.
Also, what happened with his age? How did he get to be 19 years old and age out of High School basketball seemingly only a year or less of being the top prospect in the country?
In general, this documentary does a great job of focusing on the slice of life details and not much of one answering the question of why the #1 then #3 HS basketball player in the nation wasn’t even selected at the tail end of the draft. Was it just bad representation? Was it because he couldn’t get his high school diploma and fell by wayside? For all of his obvious talent, how did he not even warrant a flyer just a few years later?
Lenny Cooke isn’t exactly Hoop Dreams, but carves its own path as a story of high school hoop dreams deferred.
Lenny Cooke (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: anytime we see a current NBA superstar
Take a Drink: whenever we see Lenny play
Take a Drink: whenever anybody wants to talk money with Lenny
Take a Drink: whenever you’re reminded Lenny just a kid having to make huge decisions
Do a Shot: when you hear the NBA Draft compared to slavery, and millions of dollars “buying cheap”