LeBron James is one of the most famous athletes in the world, so finding an actor to portray him as a teenager was a daunting task for Chris Robinson, director “Shooting Stars,” a film adaptation of James’s and Buzz Bissinger’s book. After a year of auditions and no actor as the right fit, Robinson and a friend drove up and down the East Coast attending basketball tournaments.
“My friend texted me a photograph of Mookie,” said Robinson, of casting Mookie Cook, who will play for the Oregon Ducks this coming college season. “Acting was not on his radar…but from the moment we saw him on Zoom, he just embodied LeBron.”
The film, which debuted on the streaming service Peacock last month, shows the tight bond between James and his teammates, which started when they were in elementary school and was etched in history as they garnered national attention during high school. “Shooting Stars” contains multiple basketball scenes, and production and actors wanted them to look as realistic as possible. There were choreographers who helped set things up and, said Robinson, “We utilized YouTube to the highest level.”
“I never really aspired to do a sports movie…but I read [the book] and what really touched me were the relationships,” said Robinson, who spent time in James’s hometown of Akron, Ohio. “So many films that deal with young Black men are filled with trauma and pain, and this movie was different. It was connected to brotherhood and loyalty. Absolutely, there was struggle and tough times in the movie, but they stuck together.”
Most of the actors portraying James and his teammates had little to no acting experience. Scoot Henderson, who portrayed Romeo, was recently the third pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. The lone seasoned actor was Caleb McLaughlin (Lil Dru), whose extensive acting résumé includes the popular series “Stranger Things” and “Lion King” on Broadway. Robinson said the actors truly felt that deep and abiding connection that James had and still has with his high school teammates.
“We put the guys through a gauntlet of basketball because we really wanted that to be authentic,” said Robinson. “These guys who did not know each other came together as actors and athletes and poured into each other…They were embodying a group of guys who really did everything for each other. As actors, they started that same relationship. It was magical to watch.”