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LeBron James goes Hollywood

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BIG PICTURE REPORTS FROM THE TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL

I’d barely had time to unpack my bags after I got into Toronto on Saturday night when the phone rang. It was Jimmy Iovine, head of Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records, asking if I wanted to meet him for a late dinner. When I started hedging, saying I was bushed, he said, ‘Don’t ya want to meet LeBron James?’

Suddenly, I was awake.

Just what Jimmy Iovine, one of the great charismatic hustlers from the record business, is doing with LeBron James is, well, what makes this film festival such a great cultural smorgasbord. As it turns out, one of the many documentaries here tival is ‘More Than a Game,’ which had a rousing debut Saturday night. It’s a real-life coming-of-age story tracking the improbable journey of five young basketball players from a decrepit inner-city gym to the brink of a high school national championship. Talk about good cinematic fortune: One of the kids that ‘Game’s’ director Kristopher Belman followed all those years was LeBron James.

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The emotion-packed film left James in tears after the screening. By the time I got to meet him at dinner, he was more composed. Already one of the most famous athletes in the world at 23, James seems a model media star -- earnest, personable and easy to relate to. He was enjoying the festival atmosphere, hanging out at dinner with friends and family. If he needed any advice about film stardom, he had the perfect person sitting right next to him, Spike Lee, who’s in town promoting his new film, ‘Miracle at St. Anna.’

James and I ended up talking about high school basketball, with him telling me about his schoolboy days and me reminiscing about some of his NBA rivals (Tayshaun Prince, Paul Pierce and Tyson Chandler) who played ball at L.A.-area high schools. As for Iovine, he says an old record producer friend of his got him involved with the film, which Iovine sees as a great launching pad to further the James brand. (No one’s bought the film, though it would be a perfect fit for a streetwise indy studio like Lionsgate, which has already shown interest in acquiring it.)

I plan to catch up to it as soon as possible. With James’ presence on screen, both in old footage and new interviews, the film seems to have the star power to transcend some of the normal documentary box-office boundaries. At dinner, Iovine and James’ management were talking about ‘More Than A Game’ sneakers, soundtracks and all sorts of other marketing ideas that could perhaps transform the film into a true pop culture event. Seeing LeBron up close and personal, I can see why people around him have oversized dreams. He is bigger than life, in more ways than one. When I called home Saturday night, my 10-year-old son -- who’s about as eager to watch a documentary as he is to do his math homework -- was suddenly all ears when I mentioned I’d met James. He asked the question filmmakers always like to hear: ‘Dad, when are you taking me to see the movie?’


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