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LeBron James May Be the 'Chosen One,' but He Hasn't Abandoned His Old Friends
James, Joyce, Cotton and McGee were taunted by peers as "sellouts" when they decided to attend a mostly white Catholic school because their most diminutive comrade Joyce wouldn't be able to play for their inner-city public school. Known as the "Fab Four," the original crew went 27-0 and won a state championship.
Travis, a truculent loner, came on board for the second season and was initially resentful of the bond shared by the other four. They won another state title as sophomores, but all of them felt betrayed when their coach, Keith Dambrot, accepted a job at the University of Akron. James's fame mushroomed when he made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a freshman, and the entire team was thrust into the national spotlight.
One of the more compelling scenes in the movie takes place just before the five friends play their final home game on Senior Night. Players usually walk on the court with their parents and siblings, but James decided to appear with his teammates, in an arm-and-arm embrace that serves as a symbol of their loyalty to one another.
"I had no siblings, no brothers or sisters. I really didn't have anybody to lean on. I had these guys," James said, with his signature sneaker plopped on a table at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. "We had a lot in common and it was a given; these are the guys that I want to be around. These are the guys that I want to open up my heart to. I hoped it would last forever."
James describes his final game with his teammates as "the highest and lowest time of my life" because they fulfilled a dream of winning the national title, and because he knew that a magical period of his life had come to end. He was about to become a professional basketball player and had no idea how it would affect his friendships.
Travis and Joyce both played college basketball for Dambrot at Akron and have since gone on to play professionally in Europe. McGee is the only member of the crew to get his college degree, in computer science. He is currently pursuing his master's degree in sports management. Cotton went to Ohio State on a football scholarship but is now trying to finish his undergraduate degree.
None is involved in James's business ventures (he is executive producer of the movie) and none would be classified hangers-on. James's status no doubt helped Travis and Joyce earn invitations to a tryout on Cleveland's summer league team two summers ago, but both have yet to reach the NBA.
"A lot of people ask me, 'Are you jealous?' No. Never," McGee said. "I'm not that type of person. If it's not going to be me, I would love for it to be my friend."
During a question-and-answer session with fans after a private screening in August, Travis explained why it took him nearly two years to embrace his teammates. The turning point came when Travis finally accepted an invitation to join the quartet at the lunch table, just in time for the team's championship run during their senior year. "I thought they were girls. Always showing emotion," Travis said of his immediate reaction to the other four.
"For all the women in here, what does that mean?" James asked the theater audience.
Travis then shouted at James: "You were soft. I thought you were soft."
James said being drafted by the Cavaliers out of high school greatly helped sustain the friendship. Each of his former teammates was within a two- or three-hour drive from Cleveland, and technology helped them stay in contact on the road.
Whereas once they talked about girls, the men now talk about the struggles of raising families. Cotton and James both have two children. Travis has a young daughter. None is married, but James lives with Savannah Brinson, his longtime girlfriend and the mother of his children.
The primary hangout spot has moved from James's apartment in Akron to his spacious, 35,000-square-foot home in suburban Cleveland. The men meet there each morning in the summer, ride to the Cavaliers' practice facility for a workout and return to James's home to eat, play video games or cards or just chill.
"We're a group where we don't have to see each other for months and months at a time and when we get back, it's like TiVo," James said. "You had it on pause for a little while and you press play again. That's how it is."