Even with a proven sports writer like Buzz Bissinger (Friday Night Lights) on board, it’d be all too easy to cast aside the new LeBron James biography Shooting Stars as just another sappy profile of a self-aggrandizing sports superstar. Within the mythology of the modern athlete, there simply isn’t much for the everyday person to relate to anymore. For me, however, Shooting Stars breaks that mold—partly because of its honesty and emphasis on teamwork, but perhaps mostly because it unfolds in a setting I know very well; Akron, Ohio.
Every celebrity was born somewhere, and in those various somewheres, the locals tend to take a little pride in the success stories their town has managed to produce. But no Akronite (not even Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders) has ever achieved the iconic status of former St. Vincent-St. Mary High School standout and current Cleveland Cavaliers forward, LeBron James. For this reason, it was all the more rewarding—and in many cases downright moving—to see just how much LeBron’s hometown—our hometown—has meant and still means to him.
Throughout Shooting Stars, James and Bissinger paint a vivid picture of the reality that was James’ life long before he became the “Chosen One.” The son of a single mother just 16 years his senior, James at times seems to adopt the city of Akron itself as his father figure. He describes its vital influence on his life, name checking dozens of landmarks—well known and obscure— that reflect the sense of community he still values so much, even as an international figure. When LeBron James mentions the Goodyear Clock Tower, the Queen Bee Laundromat or the beloved local burger drive-in Swenson’s, he slowly shifts from folk hero to folks, and that emphasis on reality over the cult of personality is one of the great victories of this book.
If you think the book title is some editor’s clever take on how a bunch of kids who had nothing turned into high school stars, you’d be wrong. In just one of many ironies that make up the LeBron James story, “Shooting Stars” was actually the name of the AAU team that LeBron and his cohorts played for in their pre-high school days.
Although this book is clearly LeBron’s story, it gives you as much insight into his teammates as it does LeBron. He speaks at length about his friend and court mate Dru Joyce III. “Little Dru” as he was known, because he barely reached five feet as a freshman, was the son of the assistant coach at St. V. Little Dru’s Dad, Coach Dru, had been the coach of LeBron and his close friends during their AAU Shooting Stars years. The story of Little Dru’s struggle to be respected is a story within the story and defines persistence and perseverance, culminating in his hitting seven straight three-pointers in the state championship game as a freshman—all in 10 minutes of playing time! Even as LeBron was clearly the star of the future, it was Little Dru who helped teach LeBron the killer instinct when it comes to “putting away an opponent.” The head coach of the St. V. team was Keith Dambrot. He started a basketball clinic at the local Jewish Community Center on Sunday nights and LeBron, Little Dru and the other players who would make up the St. V. “Fab Four” all participated. Little did they know at the time that they would be playing for Coach Dambrot when they went to high school. Coach Dambrot moved on to take the reigns at the University of Akron basketball program before the boys entered their Junior year at St. V. Not long after he recruited Little Dru and Romeo Travis, two of the stalwarts of the St. V. team, to become the backbone of the University of Akron basketball program. Many in Akron believe that had LeBron chosen to attend college rather than become the first pick in the NBA draft, he would have followed Coach Dambrot and his basketball chums to the local school and really put Akron on the map, much like Larry Bird had done for little Indiana State. We in Northeast Ohio, particularly the Cleveland Cavaliers, are glad he chose the pros.
Will LeBron leave the Cavs after this year as many predict? After reading this book, it is hard to imagine LeBron calling any other place “home.”