LeBron James Movie ‘Shooting Stars’ Fab Five Still on Group Chat 5

On the wonderful and ridiculous ride of feature film pre-production, the initial cast table read can often be a white-knuckle experience, waiting to see if the script sings with the actors cast — do they have chemistry together and do the Magic 8 Ball signs point to “YES” or “Try again later”? For us, the core team on Shooting Stars, our first table read was no different.

In 2009, I read an article in Vanity Fair titled, “LeBron James’ Band of Brothers” and I became somewhat obsessed with the story of him and his best friends growing up in Akron, Ohio. And thanks to amazing partners along the way, a ton of luck and my shitty ability to reconcile art and commerce (a.k.a. stubbornness), 13 years later, we were making the movie.

I remember sitting in the conference room in our production offices, which were halfway between Cleveland and Akron. Chris Robinson, our director, sat to my left, with my trusty legal pad on the table between us ready to take notes on what we were about to hear. This was a special day — it was the first time we would hear the script read out loud by Mookie Cook (playing LeBron James), Caleb McLaughlin (playing Dru Joyce, III), Avery “AJ” Wills (playing Willie McGee), Scoot Henderson (playing Romeo Travis) and Khalil Everage (playing Sian Cotton). Granted, Kim Coleman was our casting director, so the cards were stacked in our favor.

An amazing thing happened. My notepad sat largely blank, a couple of scribbles here and there, throughout the table read. With each passing page of the script, it became clear that the movie gods were smiling down on us. Caleb, by far the veteran of the bunch, was in charge, and he was “lil” Dru. In real life, the guys called Dru “The General” and, as in our movie, it was Dru who instigated the massive course change in their lives, resulting in all the boys switching high schools at the last minute. Caleb’s talent and confidence made him the natural leader for our budding group of “friends.”

Mookie, with the biggest shoes to fill playing LeBron, had never acted a day in his life. He didn’t show his nerves, and it was clear he was serious about doing a good job. Everything we’d all read about LeBron as a kid made it clear that Mookie was a perfect choice — quick to laugh with a huge smile, we all felt his sweetness immediately. Our script was all about this group of friends, one of whom happens to grow up to be Superman. All eyes were going to be on Mookie for his skills on the court, but how he seamlessly fit into this group was equally important.

AJ instantaneously channeled the role of sweet Willie McGee. Willie was the guy in the real-life Fab Five that we’d call to make sure we were getting certain details right; there was something about him that you just trusted. AJ, with his quiet confidence, had done a couple of acting jobs before but was relatively green. He seemingly stepped into Willie’s shoes effortlessly.

Then there was Scoot. Like Mookie, Scoot had never acted at all. He was also the best ball player of the bunch. (He’s now playing in the NBA for the Portland Trailblazers.) In the process of getting the movie made, Romeo Travis was tougher to read. A bit stoic and a lot going on behind those eyes. But ultimately, one of the sweetest humans and also quite emotional. Scoot seemed the most shy and also a bit hard to read — and therefore, perfect to play Romeo, the last to join the group back in the ‘90s, making the Fab Four officially the Fab Five.

Last but definitely not least was Khalil Everage, cast to play Sian Cotton. You can’t not love Sian — warm from the jump and super funny. Khalil is exactly the same way. When you see him, you just start smiling. Khalil was pretty experienced at the time, so he took his place at the table and in the hearts of the other guys along with the rest of us. 

At the end of the table read, I think I cried from relief. Not only did the script work, but the boys… the boys! Two non-actors, one relative newbie, one working actor and one veteran. Phew! What happened during the course of filming became the epitome of life imitating art imitating life.

We set out to make LeBron’s inspiring story and, for the community of Akron, something memorable and an homage to movies like Stand By Me in the process. That was paramount to everyone, from our director to Universal. On the surface, getting the basketball right was a must. But getting the struggles, heart and brotherhood across was a must for making a movie as special as the relationship between the original Fab. Since that first table read, Mookie, Caleb, Khalil, AJ and Scoot have been on a text chain — still, two years later — called “The Fab.” They spent every day together while filming; Mookie says they started hanging together before, during and after filming, no matter what. When Caleb had a New York event during filming for his show, Stranger Things, the boys all went to support. Even though each of the guys live in different states across the country, two of the five are together right now!

I recently asked the original Fab what impacted them the most about making a movie about their formative years and friendship. Sian said, “Well, I thought it was hilarious and amazing how this old group of ours became a new group of the boys playing us. And when I saw that I said to myself, ‘Everything is right in this world.’”

In the post-COVID era, here’s what we know: loneliness is an epidemic and friendship is the antidote to loneliness. Old friends LeBron, Sian, Willie, Romeo and Dru have set a beautiful example of staying strong together no matter what life has thrown their way. Their story gave way for new friends Mookie, Khalil, AJ, Scoot and Caleb to grow together in their young careers and as close friends. I count myself extremely lucky to have been a part of making this movie about loyalty and an unbreakable bond. Hell, I got a couple of close pals out of it myself, including Chris, Spencer Beighley, head of film at The Springhill Company and my producing partner on the movie, and Gretel Twombly, our line producer.

Personally, I think we need more movies that are inspiring, positive and uplifting. Not everyone can play basketball like LeBron James. That’s a lightning strike of God-given talent, hard work and support of family and community. But everyone can live and love loyally like LeBron James. Friendship is free; it’s a valuable commodity and it can be found almost anywhere, even while making a movie celebrating that very thing.

Rachel Winter is a writer, director and an Academy Award-nominated producer for Dallas Buyers Club. More recently, she produced the LeBron James’ biopic, Shooting Stars, released on Peacock in June 2023. Her other credits include directing the Webby winning audio drama, Supreme: The Battle for Roe, starring Maya Hawke and William H. Macy. Winter made her directorial debut with The Space Between, starring Kelsey Grammer, and, along with Rachel Steinman, is the co-author of Stay Golden, Girls – Friendship is the New Marriage, a book about female friendships.

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