'Friday Night Lights' author takes a shot at NBA star LeBron James

Julia Keller
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

In literary terms, Buzz Bissinger is the guy who gets the bucket, not the guy who gives the assist.

So it was a bit of a surprise to learn that the man who wrote "Friday Night Lights" (1990), one of the most popular and influential sports books of all time and the basis for the movie and TV series of the same name, had co-written a book with NBA superstar LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Bissinger, frankly, didn't need the gig.

The 54-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist had plenty of other projects on his plate, including a memoir he was writing about his twin sons, now adults, one of whom suffered severe brain injury at birth. He's written with depth and insight about baseball, horse racing, big-city politics and a variety of other topics. He's a dogged reporter trapped in a bestselling author's body.

But when he got a call from his agent, who is also James' literary agent, about the possibility of collaborating with James on a book, Bissinger decided to check it out.

"I remember going to his (James') house and meeting him for the first time," Bissinger said in an interview from his home in Philadelphia. "I was nervous. I almost never get nervous.

"The first thing is I noticed was — he's huge. I came up to his belly-button," the author added with a laugh. But it wasn't James' physical size that made Bissinger most apprehensive; it was the potential size of his ego. Meeting James put that worry to rest.

"With a superstar, you don't know what you're going to get. But there aren't any airs about him. He's unassuming. It was clear he really wanted to do this. We ate dinner, I watched him with his kids, and I left with a good vibe about him. He's easy to be with. This is a guy who's really grounded."

Bissinger still might have said no, however, if James had wanted a self-congratulatory book to fatten his own ego. That's not what "Shooting Stars," recently published by Penguin, was ever intended to be.

Instead, it's a story about James and his high school teammates in Akron, chronicling how a group of young men from sketchy backgrounds and challenging family situations managed to lift each other up. Only James became a household name — but "Shooting Stars" is more about friendship than it is about fame, more about loyalty and hope than it is about the millions James has earned in a few short years as an NBA standout. Without his pals, without the timely intervention of some caring adults, James notes in the book, there was "the real danger that, like so many African-American boys, I would just get lost in the very hardness of life." A documentary covering the same crucial years in James' adolescence, titled "More Than a Game," is scheduled for October release.

"The book is not LeBron-centric," Bissinger said. "The other characters are as important as he is. LeBron has an extreme sense of loyalty. This was a kid who came from a very, very hard background. But he was never hardened by what he saw. He kept a curiosity about the world.

"The tone of the book isn't rock-'em, sock-'em. There's a soft quality to it. That was my idea — not to make it too furiously melodramatic."

"Shooting Stars" is told in James' voice, but Bissinger's shaping hand is apparent. To get a sense of the man whose life he channeled, Bissinger met with James multiple times over a 15-month period, visited Akron and other places important to James, interviewed the friends and mentors who made a difference in James' formative years.

"This," Bissinger declared, "is a very mature guy. He's not only a remarkable athlete, he's a rare human being with an incredibly intuitive head on his shoulders."





Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?


London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".


Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.


Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.