“Lenny Cooke” is a phenomenal documentary following high school phenomenon Lenny Cook as he made the rounds at some of the biggest national high school basketball camps in 2001 through his entry into the 2002 NBA Draft. The film takes a look at the life of one of the most high profile high school athletes of all time as he played against the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and was once the top rated high school player in the country. As we know, James and Anthony are in the league now while Cooke is not.
“Lenny Cooke” is currently screening in Los Angeles starting Friday and running through Thursday. For more information on “Lenny Cooke,” head over to their website here. You should also head over to their Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram Account and Youtube Channel. The documentary opened today the Laemmle Music Hall 3 in Beverley Hills. The film will be shown every day at three different time slots (2:30 p.m. | 7:40 p.m. | 10 p.m.) through Tuesday and will only be shown at two different slots on the final two days, Wednesday and Thursday.
Lakers Nation was able to speak with the film’s producer, Adam Shopkorn, about “Lenny Cooke,” Kobe Bryant and the world of high school hoops.
Lakers Nation: Considering that the project started when Cooke was one of the top high school prospects in the nation, what direction did you see this documentary going on day one?
Adam Shopkorn: I initially set out to document the “prep-to-pro” phenomenon and to identify a subject that was about to embark on this process. This was around the time that the process was really accelerating. In the 2001 NBA Draft, three of the first four draft picks were high school kids, so the flood gates really opened up. There was a real market for high school players in the NBA. Teams were drafting off of pure potential.Not for what you were getting now, but what for what you would have 4-6 years down the road. And they were drafting for size. You cannot teach size.
MTV’s Cribs seemed like the biggest show on television at the time and I thought the juxtaposition of a high schooler from humble beginnings getting drafted and moving into a huge mansion while living out of a bunch of duffle bags to be interesting. Little did I know that the project would change dramatically when Lenny received some unwelcome news the night of the 2002 NBA Draft. That night was life changing for him and it changed the direction of the film that I was making.
LN: You mentioned that you put the film down for a while. Is there any particular reason you stepped away from it?
AS: The first time I ever had trouble reaching Lenny was the night of the 2002 NBA Draft. I must have called him 95 times that day because this was an event that I could not miss as a filmmaker. Well, I missed it. He never returned my calls. Also, when Lenny moved out of his guardian Debbie’s New Jersey home and relocated to Flint, Michigan to live with a “runner” who was working for the agent that would represent him in the 2002 NBA Draft, he became very illusive difficult to establish contact with.
I imagine that his new crew did not want me around making a film about his life. This is what stalled the project. Not being with him for the 2002 NBA Draft really upset me and afterwards I became busy with my life in New York, working a full time job and going to graduate school and the project lost momentum. 100 hours of footage sat in a Nike shoebox on my shelf in my apartment and began to collect dust. A month led to a year and a year to three years and three years to five. I eventually realized that in order to move forward with anything else in my life, I had to finish this film.
LN: Cooke argues that he thought Kobe Bryant was the best player in the league in 2001 then meets him at one of the Adidas camps. Can you shed a little more light on that meeting and what it meant to Cooke meeting him?
AS: Hanging with Kobe at ABCD Camp meant the world to Lenny. Not only had Kobe successfully made the leap from High School to the NBA in the 1996 Draft, but this exact moment in time was immediately on the heels of the Lakers winning back-to-back championships. At barely 23 years of age, Kobe was well on his way to becoming the biggest basketball player on the planet.
Kobe was also Sonny Vaccaro’s guy. He was an Adidas guy, just like Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady. Sonny really must have had the juice to get a guy like Kobe to come to his camp over the summer less than a month after he just completed his second championship season. Kobe came to speak to the best crop of basketball talent in the country. That’s what you had to be if you were invited to ABCD Camp.
Kobe gave a really good talk to the kids about how there has to be more to their lives than basketball. He stressed trying to find happiness in other disciplines of one’s life. And he told them they’re responsible for their own decisions. He says “If you want to go to Duke, go to Duke. If you want to go to Stanford, go to Stanford. If you want to go to the league, go the league.” Everyone was in awe of Kobe at that particular moment. And then Lenny raises his hand to ask a question and asks Kobe “when you going to play me?” WOW! Kobe says he’ll play him when he gets to the League and unfortunately they never were able to play against each other.
LN: Cooke entered the 2002 draft without being selected. What was he like that night, and what was his attitude about basketball following his disappointment?
AS: 2002 NBA Draft night was devastating for Lenny. He was told certain things, even promised that a spot was waiting for him in the first round, but he obviously received bad information. He was told he was going to be drafted in the first round with the 17th pick by the Washington Wizards, but then Maryland’s Juan Dixon’s name was called. He then believed he’d have to wait until the second round to hear his name called, but that never happened either.
That is a traumatic experience for a young kid from Brooklyn who decided to put all of his eggs in one basket. I felt terrible that night and was so upset for Lenny. Lenny persevered after that night. He did some stints in some American Professional basketball leagues and traveled the world to play basketball professionally, too. He was a big star over in the Philippines playing in the PBA and suffered some horrific injuries between 2004 and 2006.
He was in a bad car accident in 2004 where his teammates car slid off a slick road in southern California and he was in a coma. The doctors believed they would have to amputate his leg. He was told he would never play basketball again and worked his way back into shape to get back out on the floor. From what Lenny tells us, he never loved the game of basketball. It was simply something he started doing and he happened really really good at it. Early on, he played at Rucker Park, Riverside Church and the Gauchos, not because he wanted to but because he was earning money to play. He enjoyed having some change in his pocket.
LN: You have footage of Lenny playing against guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. What do you think was the biggest reason those two became stars in the NBA and Cooke didn’t?
AS: LeBron and Melo started playing basketball at a way earlier age than Lenny. Melo also got out of NYC and headed down to Baltimore where he learned the game. And as we all know, LeBron grew up in blue collar Akron, Ohio. That’s not to say that Baltimore does not have the same amount of distractions that New York might have, but the media attention is less severe in Baltimore and Akron than in NYC.
The Big Apple’s media hype machine can chew you up and spit you out in an instant. Lenny was the the next big thing in NYC basketball. New York always needs a new thing and he was it. But you can be hot in an instant and gone in a flash. Lenny believed the hype and this negatively affected him. Lenny was hanging out with celebrities in high school. He was treated like a celebrity. LeBron and Carmelo continued to work on their craft and had tighter circles than Lenny did. I always have believed that you have to be hard-wired a certain way to be a professional athlete. Either you have that wiring or you do not.
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