About LENNY COOKE
Opening in theaters on December 6th, Lenny Cooke was a stand-out at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival where it had its world premiere.Read More
In 2001, Lenny Cooke was the most hyped high school basketball player in the country, ranked above future greats LeBron James, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. A decade later, Lenny has never played a minute in the NBA. In this quintessentially American documentary, filmmaking brothers Joshua and Benny Safdie take a candid look and track the unfulfilled destiny of a man for whom superstardom was only out of reach.
Lenny Cooke marks the first feature length documentary by the Safdie brothers, who received the John Cassavetes Award at The Independent Spirit Awards for Daddy Longlegs. Daddy Longlegs premiered at the Cannes Film Festival as did their first feature The Pleasure of Being Robbed.
The film was executive produced by two time NCAA champion and Chicago Bull Joakim Noah.
A stand out at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, Lenny Cooke premiered to critical praise.
Within the first couple minutes of Lenny Cooke, Joshua and Ben Safdie’s new documentary about the eponymous high school basketball prodigy, scout Tom Konchalski speaks to a group of boys (including Cooke) assembled for a summer basketball camp and lays out the odds of making it in the NBA: “On opening night of the NBA season this past October 30th, there were 348 players on NBA rosters. The population of the United States as of the year 2000 census was 281.4 million people. That means to make it to the NBA you have to almost literally be one in a million.” In 2001, when the filmmaker Adam Shopkorn begins following him, Lenny Cooke seems in the perfect position to be “one in a million”. He the #1 ranked high school basketball player in the nation, ahead of future NBA stars LeBron James, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony; he is attending prestigious basketball camps, where he plays against the best kids in the country; and he is trying to decide what he wants to do after high school - go to college or try his luck in the NBA draft.
In the end, Lenny makes all the wrong choices, the most fateful of which is forgoing college to try his luck in the NBA draft, trusting the advice of a snake oil salesman agent who assures him he will go in the first round. After going unselected in the draft, Lenny’s dreams of stardom and fame disintegrate and he embarks upon several years of playing for minor leagues around the world.
I have to admit that I went into this film expecting modern-day Lenny to be a bit of a wreck. I guess perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of Intervention, where the once-so-promising young person has their dream shattered and turns to drugs or alcohol to fill the limitless void in their heart. I expected Lenny to be much the same – perhaps a bitter, crack-addled shell of his former self? Perhaps a withdrawn, sullen alcoholic who spent private moments watching old footage of himself in his glory days and dreaming of what Could Have Been. Meeting the real Lenny, I felt ashamed for having such little faith in the man. He is remarkable centered about his lost opportunity, seems grateful that he was able to make a living as a professional athlete at all, and does not exhibit any bitterness towards LeBron and the other peers who ended up grabbing the gold that seemed to be in Lenny’s reach. Modern-day Lenny tours the country sharing his cautionary tale with young athletes, trying to stop them from making the same mistakes he made.
In the end, Lenny Cooke can’t live up to the impossibly high standard set by Hoop Dreams, but it does add a new angle to the faded glory genre by showing us that it is possible to come up short yet still remain grateful for having had the opportunity in the first place. After all, not many of us can say that we were nearly one in a million.
Lenny Cooke opens theatrically on December 6, 2013 in New York City. Roll out to follow.