In the early ’80’s before the term Urban became in vogue, I was a radio DJ at then funk/soul, commercial outlet WQMG-FM Greensboro. I had an extremely enjoyable time spinning hits by Change, Slave, Roger Troutman, The Gap Band, Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross and an occasional release in a new and emerging genre called rap.
Before I was hired, I’d walked into the station’s control room on a bright and sunny summer’s day and asked the guy on air if he was the PD, and if he wasn’t where could I find him. As it turned out, the forward thinking young man who was on the air wasn’t the PD for QMG, but he was the program director at jazz outlet WNAAA-FM the college/public station for North Carolina A & T University.
He offered me an on air, mid-day slot four days a week, smoothed my transition into a new community, and ultimately made it possible for me to be hired at the 50,000 watt commercial outlet a few months earlier. His name is Tony Johnson.
Johnson is now a communications executive in the NY area and married with kids. He still gets around town a bit and recently caught the premiere of the new LeBron James documentary, “More Than A Game.” Please find below his account of the evening and the film.
NIKE SPONSORED ’03 ST. VINCENT-ST. MARY CHAMPS
“More Than a Game” is a documentary film directed by Kristopher Belman that follows the real life hoops dream of Akron Ohio’s St. Vincent-St. Mary’s high school basketball team’s championship season; and the drive, determination, and unity that is required to live one. It is not only a coming of age story, but one of dedication to a common goal as well. In contrast to our “me” driven culture, the film examines the camaraderie and sacrifice that it takes for a group to succeed by shining a light on 5 young black men who stayed in school, and out of trouble.
Belman dramatically captures the story narrated by head coach Dru Joyce II, and weaves a tale that uses the words of the 5 key players. Coach Joyce is my wife’s uncle and he graciously invited us to the NYC premiere of the film. The School of Visual Arts Theater is where the screening was held, and a Q & A session followed immediately after.
When we arrived, we could see that the school’s walls were covered with larger than life posters of the high school team that displayed the corporate logo of Nike- the team’s athletic wear sponsor. One of Nike’s most important endorsers was a member of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s cagers, NBA MVP LeBron James. James’ well documented jump from high school into the professional ranks gives this story it’s hook.
WILLIE McGEE COACH DRU JOYCE II LeBRON JAMES
The posters were well apportioned with the unmistakable Nike swoosh. I suspected that such overt branding might lend itself to, “More Than a Game” becoming a long form commercial for Nike and the brand that is LeBron. That wasn’t quite the case though. The movie isn’t fully about LeBron alone, nor is it explicitly about the Nike brand, or the technical X’s and O’s of basketball. “More Than a Game” is an uncorrupted look from the camera of director Kristopher Belman.
Belman began the film as a film class project while he attended the University of Akron. “I was simply trying to get an A,” he told the room of kids, and teenagers who stayed for the post film Q & A. Several rows in the theater were also reserved by and filled with Nike (funding), Interscope (soundtrack), and Lionsgate (distributor) execs, as well as friends and family for the premier.
In a addition to original footage, Belman ended up gathering still-pictures and footage directly from the players, their families, ESPN, and local TV coverage. The movie chronicles the early lives of the boys who came together at a Salvation Army gym on Maple Street in Akron, OH. That team would put Akron on the map, create a National basketball powerhouse, and produce one of the most talented players of our time.
Family members attest that Coach Joyce never asked anything of his team other than to play hard. Articles have alluded to his personal involvement and questioned his reasons. From the beginning this was about helping his son play basketball. It grew to being about his team his “boys” and never about his own personal gain; regardless of what was said to him personally or in the press.
PHOTOGRAPHED WITH HIS WIFE, THE AUTHOR
Men, especially black men should take notice to what is possible if you just stay active in your child’s life. Many of the male figures in the team members lives were not around. Joyce’s commitment shows what can happen when someone stays, and is still there. He keeps in touch with all of them to this day. He also led St Vincent St Mary’s to the 2008-2009 Ohio State Championship. His former players continue to have productive post high school careers and lives; LeBron James – NBA, Dru Joyce III – European Basketball League – Poland, Romeo Travis – European Basketball League – Germany, Sian Cotton – former defensive tackle for Ohio State University, Willie McGee – Graduate School – University of Akron.