"Lenny Cooke": A Story About Getting in the Way of Being Great

Lenny Cooke If you work hard to achieve your goal but don't succeed, there's some solace in knowing that you tried your best. But if you fail without having put in the hard work, you may identify with the subject of Josh and Benny Safdie's often-heartbreaking documentary Lenny Cooke. In 2001, the 19-year-old Cooke was the top-ranked high school basketball player in the nation, gifted but undisciplined, more interested in the promise of fame and money than in improving his game. (His resentment at being told what to do by his coaches is palpable.) Cooke's career spirals after he gets passed over in the 2002 NBA Draft, and by his 30th birthday, his hoop dreams are long vanished. Lenny Cooke is both an admonishment of an inherently crooked system — consider the horribly cynical names of the basketball camps, like Five-Star Basketball Camp and ABCD Basketball Camp — and a study of one man's pain, and how that pain may have ultimately made him a better person. Some of the fly-on-the-wall moments feel a little staged, since the participants surely knew they were being filmed by multiple cameras, but Lenny Cooke's emotions always ring true, especially when the older Cooke finally confronts his past. If only his younger self would listen, and keep his eye on the ball.

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