LeBron James May Be the 'Chosen One,' but He Hasn't Abandoned His Old Friends

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009

Romeo Travis fully understood what it means to be best friends with LeBron James on the streets of Bloomington, Ill., this past August. After attending a fundraising event for the local United Way, Travis was walking with the Cleveland Cavaliers forward and two of James's other high school basketball buddies when a small throng surrounded the NBA star. As James greeted his fans, a man sporting a beard and a buzz cut lurched forward and thrust his arm out -- toward Travis.

"I need you to see this," the man confided, his eyes wide.

Before Travis could respond, the man rolled up the sleeve of his T-shirt to reveal his left biceps. Travis stared in amazement at the tattooed drawing of James's pregame ritual of tossing a cloud of talcum powder skyward, the words "Chosen One" inside the cloud.

"I was kind of scared. He was like, 'I love you because you know LeBron,' " Travis recalled.

It's one thing for a fan to seek out an autograph or handshake, he marveled, but permanently inking a basketball star you've never met onto your arm? The moment crystallized for Travis just how famous James had become, even as the friendship had remained improbably strong between the former teammates who had helped their Catholic high school win a mythical national championship in 2003.

Long before the Cavaliers selected James with the No. 1 overall draft pick, long before he helped the United States win a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics, won the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award and Nike made him a multimillionaire, LeBron James was friends with Travis, Willie McGee, Dru Joyce III and Sian Cotton.

"That's why I love them. They keep me humble," James says.

Their friendship is documented in a new movie, "More Than a Game," which opens in theaters across the country on Friday. The documentary chronicles the quintet's seven-year journey from a tiny Salvation Army gym on Maple Street in Akron -- where James befriended Joyce and Cotton as fifth-graders -- to leading St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School to its third and final state championship in Columbus.

Along the way, the friends overcame hardships off the court -- James bounced around subsidized apartments with his single mother, Gloria; McGee escaped a troubled home in Chicago to live with his brother; Travis was perpetually angry; and Joyce battled doubts about whether he was tall enough to play ball. They later paid the price for overconfidence with a defeat in a state championship and succumbed to the lures of celebrity -- James's acceptance of some expensive jerseys as a senior led to a suspension that nearly cost him his amateur status, and his team a state title.

Kristopher Belman, the film's director, started recording the players during their senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary's, when Belman was a college junior enrolled in a documentary class at Loyola Marymount University.

"Honestly, that first practice, seeing the boys interact, their relationship was so unique. I thought I had something bigger than a 10-minute class project," said Belman, an Akron native who also incorporated home videos, personal photos and current interviews to complete the film. "From the get-go, when I pitched the vision, I said, 'This is a friendship story,' " Belman said.

Belman and the movie's star pals visited Washington in August to promote the film, and from the way the friends poked fun at each other and finished each other's jokes, it was obvious that they remain tight more than six years after they played their final game together.

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