It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when a high school basketball player from Brooklyn by way of New Jersey named Lenny Cooke was ranked higher than LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other then-prep stars.
Clearly, things didn’t work out for Cooke, who once seemed to be such a sure thing for the NBA. You’d have heard of him if they had.
The new documentary “Lenny Cooke” chronicles Cooke’s rise and fall over the course of about 12 years. It’s comprised of footage shot by a filmmaker named Adam Shopkorn, abandoned, and then revived and assembled by the team of Josh and Benny Safdie, who incorporated new footage shot of Cooke after his prep prime. The film depicts a litany of minor missteps and unlucky breaks that collectively left the player ineligible for the NCAA, undraftable and adrift as an adult without the anchor of basketball.
But “Lenny Cooke,” which screens Saturday, is more than just a cautionary tale about a star-to-be who never was. It’s the story of a man struggling to rebound from the tortuous reality that one-in-a-million superstardom just eluded his grasp. It’s about what happens and how we cope when our hopes and dreams are left unfulfilled.
“I like to think Josh, Benny and I have provided a platform for [Cooke] to start the third chapter of his life,” Shopkorn says. “I genuinely think young kids today will listen to his story.”
Josh Safdie agrees: “Certain people’s purposes in life are to be studied. … I think that Lenny is starting to realize that’s his purpose in life.” (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick St.)