Monday, December 16, 2013

Lenny Cooke

Brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie - the directors of the basketball documentary "Lenny Cooke" - offer not so much a piece of filmmaking as a data dump.

A few years ago, they acquired 100 hours of footage shot by Adam Shopkorn chronicling the years before Cooke, at one time the US' top-ranked high school cager, declared his eligibility for the 2002 NBA Draft. The picture quality's not great, but these early battles - and courtside confabs - with Carmelo and LeBron are fascinating to watch. Beyond his athletic prowess and court smarts, the Cooke of these years is easy to root for: habitually late and academically unmotivated, perhaps, but affectionate and disarming and far from impetuous. 

Cooke was never drafted, but why? Was it the year he took away from organized basketball after high school? To guess from the Safdies' reductionist telling, you'd think it was the game-winning shot LBJ drained over him in a national exhibition game that sent him from surefire first round pick to radio silence on draft night. The Safdies interview him today, back home in Virginia, where he expresses some regrets but not despair at the life not lived. He's a family man now, a gentle giant of a guy who, with his wife and child, must find a way to make ends meet. The Safdies play this story as a tragedy. There are far worse fates.

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