As expected as Lebron James rise to superstardom is, is just as unexpected as Lenny Cooke’s fall from the spotlight was. As a high school recruit Cooke was ranked above Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire by numerous analysts but says his own complacency lead to his eventual downfall. Now as his documentary, the Lenny Cooke Movie is being played at the Tribeca Film Festival Cooke gets to use his story to help young talented kids not repeat the same mistakes. Page 31 caught up with Lenny Cooke who broke down why he feels this story needs to be heard, his 2013 NBA Finals predictions, and his favorite moments of the film.
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“I just think there’s a lot more kids that get ruined coming out early, or going to school trying to be developed to come out early, than actually make it,” Cuban said. “For every Kobe (Bryant) or (Kevin) Garnett or Carmelo (Anthony) or LeBron (James), there’s 100 Lenny Cookes.”
Standing tall but cramped in the narrow kitchen at 6 feet 6 inches and not much under 300 pounds, Lenny Cooke suddenly looked up from his culinary masterpiece. “I went from being a superstar basketball player to being a cook,” he said wistfully, unmindful of the play on his name.
There was one shot of much younger Lenny, his thinner face partly hidden under a low-slung cap, posing with Magic Johnson. And there was contemporary Lenny, bloated in the years after injuries ended a career already marginalized, in the separate company of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire at a Knicks game last season. “When I see them, I get the most respect,” he said. “They knew how good I was.”
After arriving with a phalanx of relatives, Cooke’s mother, Alfreda Hendrix, explained that her son had heeded the wrong calling and had mistaken what was given to him as something he had earned. “He was a teenage kid, and every day he had money in his pocket — and I don’t mean $200 or $300,” she said. “It was whatever he wanted, like the world was his, so he took advantage of it. I guess he didn’t figure that things were going to fall down because people kept telling him it was only going to get better and better. He made a lot of mistakes, but as far as his attitude, he’s changed now. He has matured a lot.”
Yet there remains a restless side to Cooke, a meandering and moody soul, the father of three (a son lives in Brooklyn and another daughter in Maryland) who will wander off for weeks at a time to Atlantic City, where he was born, or back to Brooklyn, where he lived during his early high school years. This is where the story, still at its crossroads, becomes more complicated. Nobody seems to know what Cooke is looking for — closure from basketball and the key to his future, or the perpetuation of a legend that was never quite written.
Few recall that Cooke came directly off the court in a head-to-head battle with Carmelo Anthony prior to his matchup with LeBron. And that’s fine with Cooke. “LeBron had a better game than me,” the 28-year-old Cooke said. “That’s when his career exploded.” Most weren’t aware that Cooke, growing up in New York, did have a support system that included his parents, but they weren’t basketball-savvy, so he was basically left to fend for himself while all the leaches tried to swoop in and prey on his naiveté. “Every decision I made, I had to make on my own,” Cooke said.