'Lenny Cooke' film is cautionary tale of squandered sports talent

Fri Dec 20, 2013 12:09pm EST
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By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lenny Cooke, a New York City basketball legend who was ranked the No. 1 high school player in America in 2000 ahead of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, accepted a $350,000 jackpot from a sports agent and had the time of his life.

But life in the fast lane quickly disappeared as he went from top basketball prospect tantalizingly close to NBA millions to a hardcourt outsider struggling to make a living.

His story is chronicled in "Lenny Cooke," the debut feature documentary by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie ("The Black Balloon") that opened in selected U.S. theaters this month.

The life lessons of the film, a cautionary tale of squandered talent, have resonated for many years with its executive producer Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.

"Lenny's story was a story I got to see firsthand from the bench," Noah, an NBA All-Star, told Reuters after a recent Bulls game at Madison Square Garden in New York.

"I was a little bit younger than him. We had just moved to New York from Paris, France, and that (Amateur Athletic Union) team in New York and I learned a lot from him."

Noah, the son of grand slam tennis champion Yannick Noah, said although it is a sad story, he is proud of Cooke, a gifted player who motivated him to demand more from himself.

"It's easy to talk about your successes in front of people but to talk about your hardships, your failures and to talk about what you could've done better takes a real man," he said.   Continued...