What more is there to know about the most impactful American athlete of the 21st century? LeBron James’ global basketball superstardom has spanned six presidential terms, a complete technological shift in society and the birth of a generation that now teases people for being born in the 1900s. Considering his 20-year NBA career will likely be coming to a close in the near future and that his oldest son just committed to play for the University of Southern California next season, it makes sense to look at the earlier moments of LeBron’s rise to grasp a full understanding of the human aspect of his very superhero story.

The new “Shooting Stars” film, which debuted Friday on Peacock, is a dramatized look at teenage Bron — the building blocks of him becoming the most hyped and marketed high school athlete in American history. But more than a zeroing in on Bron’s personal story, it’s about the community from which he came and the childhood brotherhood that made it possible for him to soar.

The story starts in his elementary school years, when he first became friends with some of the kids that’d go on to be his lifelong companions: Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee. From there, it goes into how their connection and the leadership of coach/father figure Dru Joyce II shielded a group of kids whose love for basketball fell second to nothing, but could, like most teens, be led astray.

The film is directed by Baltimore-area native Chris Robinson, who spent the bulk of the 2000s directing some of the most well-known hip-hop and R&B music videos (Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’,” Amerie’s “1 Thing” and Brandy’s “Full Moon” are just a few), as well as the cult classic feature film “ATL” which starred rapper T.I. and Lauren London. Though “Shooting Stars” does not share the same edge as the 2006 movie, it does build on Robinson’s ability to successfully lay out the stakes for Black youth nearing adulthood. In a recent conversation, the director spoke about his new film and what lengths he went to make sure he properly framed one of the greatest athletes we’ve ever seen.

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Can you talk about how the opportunity to direct this film came to you?

I went into SpringHill [Company, James’ video production company] to pitch a TV show with the artist Estelle about her life. That didn’t work out, but as I was walking out of the building somebody stopped me — his name is Jamal Henderson. I didn’t know he was an executive there but he asked me to read a script. And the script was for “Shooting Stars.” That was about three years ago.

LeBron is such a monumental figure in American culture and his story is one that a lot of people are familiar with. How do you go about being true-to-life while leaning into particular themes you’d like to get across?

It was really about being authentic. I get the comment when people see it and say it’s such a wholesome thing. But I think it’s because we’re used to seeing young Black men portrayed in a certain way, but this is actually real. LeBron grew up with a single mom but he had a village around him. He had a coach that cared about him. He had a best friend whose house he’d stay over. There was gunfire near where he played ball. We’re used to seeing a certain amount of separation between young Black men and the older generation, or not seeing love from a mother. So to me this movie is a lot about representation and it’s a father-son story, it’s a story about loyalty. People almost look at it as fantasy and it’s sad. And it’s hurtful. But the truth is, this is a guy who struggled, lived in the projects, stumbled a bit. We’re seeing a real superhero origin story. What’s more amazing to me was talking to his friends, his coach, his mom about how there were narrow escapes but a village of people came together — not just for LeBron — but for all his friends.

How did you come to understand LeBron differently after spending time in his hometown? Akron, Ohio, isn’t attracting a whole lot of people not from there. So what pieces started coming together?

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It’s the culture. Like at home in Baltimore we have a certain culture: people who worked on docks, Bethlehem Steel, that kind of blue-collar existence. Akron is similar but it’s also Midwest so they talk and move a certain way. But it’s still America so there’s good parts, bad parts and a particular work ethic. I’m not sure if you caught the song “Zoom” by the Commodores in the movie. In the beginning the father is trying to communicate something — that the kids were gonna go on to do something special — but they didn’t understand it. They wanted to hear Biggie [Smalls]. But at the end they all sang that song at the top of their lungs because they finally understood what the lyrics were about: your dreams and achieving what you really want. I think all that informs who LeBron really is. He’s been in the league for 20 years and he just scored 40 points. It’s crazy.

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I really enjoyed you showing the tension from the preexisting regime at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. There were tinges of racism. Tinges of classism. Parents upset that these young Black freshmen are taking over. How much of those experiences were described by his friends when you spoke with them?

It wasn’t really a conversation. It existed in the script but it wasn’t a line about parents being pissed. But just from my own experiences of being from America and knowing there is racism and classism. You would never think LeBron dealt with that — at least not me — when you watch him on the Lakers or the Heat or Cavs. It seems like he must have been this darling athlete since 10 years old. But his own community who had been going to his games since he was small was highly disappointed that he wasn’t going to the local public school. They felt like they had been abandoned. But coach Dru did what was best for his son.

As a director, in which ways did you feel like your vision could bend this story?

As artists, you always wanna put your sauce on it. That’s part of it but it’s all about your experiences in life. Quentin Tarantino would have done this completely different — a lot more curse words and someone would have probably gotten their head shot off. I took out some language that I didn’t feel was necessary. I didn’t want to twist it. When I read the script, I said this is a story about fathers and sons. The conflict between Little Dru and his dad. Willie had a bad story. His people were addicts and his brother adopted him at 18 years old. There’s a slice of real life in this movie. I hope when the audience sees this they feel some connection. Like, ‘Wow, I grew up just like this.’ Maybe they’re not from Akron or Cleveland or Ohio but I think of the times I coached my son and the camaraderie — the lessons you learn in those experiences.

Lawrence Burney was The Baltimore Banner’s arts & culture reporter. He was formerly a columnist at The Washington Post, senior editor at The FADER, and staff writer at VICE music vertical Noisey.

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