While LeBron Wins Gold, Lenny Talks About What Might've Been | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Wednesday / February 21.
  • While LeBron Wins Gold, Lenny Talks About What Might’ve Been

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    EDITOR’S NOTE: I highly recommend the “Lenny Cooke” documentary now showing. I saw it and it’s a must-see for any basketball fans. It’s directed by Josh & Benny Safdie and produced by Adam Shopkorn. For more info, check out https://twitter.com/LennyCookeMovie. Above is a video interview I did with Lenny in the summer of 2012, and below is the trailer for the film.

    NEW YORK — On the same weekend that LeBron James climbed to the apex of the basketball world by winning gold in London, Lenny Cooke was in a gym in The Bronx talking about what might have been.

    Cooke, a Brooklyn hoops prodigy who at one point in his young career was close to being on the same basketball plane as James, came to the Big Strick Classic this past weekend to pass on his message to up-and-coming stars like Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Troy Williams and Chris McCullough.

    “The message that I want to get clear to them is…get an education because without that if you don’t have anything to fall back on, it’s a waste of talent,” Cooke, now 30 and living in Virginia, told SNY.tv in the above video interview.

    Cooke’s career turned permanently during a 2001 game against James at Sonny Vaccaro’s ABCD Camp in Hackensack, N.J. Then the presumed No. 1 prospect in America, Cooke was overtaken by James in a game in front of a slew of coaches, scouts and reporters.

    Here’s an excerpt from a terrific piece by Harvey Araton in The New York Times on that famous encounter:

    James had already outscored Cooke, 21-9, but he saved his best for last. Guarded by Cooke, he dribbled out of the backcourt, to his right. Just as he approached the 3-point line, with a step on Cooke, James went airborne, kicked his feet back and floated the ball toward the rim. He hit nothing but net — game over — while Cooke’s jaw dropped.

    “How’d he make that?” he said to a friend afterward, mixing in profanity. “Oh my God.”

    Sonny Vaccaro, the former sneaker company executive who founded the camp, was stunned to learn that Shopkorn had footage of what he considered to be a historic shot. He called it the “one physical moment that symbolized the beginning of LeBron and the downfall of Lenny Cooke.”

    “He beat Lenny on his own turf,” Vaccaro said. “I mean, you can say it was one shot, one game, but in a way, Lenny never recovered.”

    Cooke went undrafted in the 2002 NBA Draft and never did make it to the NBA despite all the early hype. He last played in the CBA in 2007.

    “I would change a lot of things,” Cooke, who has put on a lot of weight since his playing days, told SNY.tv. “Most importantly, I would base myself around different people than I was dealing with back then when I was younger.

    “I would’ve probably try to get people in my corner that had my best [interests] as far as me, instead of just basketball..And I would’ve definitely went to school instead of putting my name in the Draft in ’02.”

    Cooke is the subject of an ongoing documentary filmed by Adam Shopkorn tentatively titles “Untitled: Lenny Cooke Project.” Shopkorn was at ABCD in 2001 for the LeBron game and he was filming Cooke this past weekend at the Big Strick.

    As for LeBron, Cooke seems to bear him no ill will and is happy for all his accomplishments, which this year include an NBA MVP, an NBA championship and a gold medal in London. Cooke said he’s spoken to James twice since the 2001 game.

    “I’m proud of him of all the accomplishments that he accomplished,” Cooke said of LeBron. “There’s nothing I can say bad about that guy. He’s just a great basketball player. And when you’re talented, can’t nobody take it away from you.”

    Cooke mingled with the players over the weekend, exchanging phone numbers with Williams, a 6-6 wing also from Virginia who is being recruited by Alabama, Louisville, Kansas, Indiana, Ohio State and others.

    “It’s just basically letting them know that I was in their shoes 10-12 years ago and what to look forward to,” Cooke said. “You’re going to have a lot of people coming after you because you’re the top players in the country and stuff like that.

    “I would like to give you all the advice and what road not to take.”


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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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