The rise and fall of New York basketball star Lenny Cooke is as potent a cautionary tale as any. The high school standout was ranked among the top college prospects in 2002. However, Cooke’s past troubles with academics and a legendary lack of discipline led to him eventually flaming out altogether. Now 30, Cooke is the focus of a revealing and somber self-titled documentary executive produced by Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah.
Lenny Cooke is directed by independent New York filmmakers Josh and Ben Safdie, who dive deep into Cooke’s inner circle and highlighting key points of his career. As a junior, Cooke averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds a game along with an imposing defensive presence. Mentioned in the same breath as fellow high school hoops stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, Cooke was projected as a first round pick.
Although several big-name college programs offered Cooke a scholarship, he would have to enter the 2002 NBA in which now-retired big man Yao Ming went first overall. His path to the NCAA was hindered as a result of taking a $350,000 payout which disqualified him from entering college.
Cooke’s name was never called at the NBA draft, and he toiled about in the minor leagues and resorted to playing for the Rucker Park Summer League as part of the Terror Squad team. Once a lean 6’6 and 200 pounds, Cooke in the present day is overweight but not entirely inactive. According to a New York Daily News report, he speaks occasionally with youth about his poor choices.
“I never turn down talking to a kid,” said Cooke to the Daily News at a screening last week. “I would never do it. I would never want the next generation to make the mistakes I did.”
Lenny Cooke is showing this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Music for the documentary is provided by notable Hip-Hop producer Boi-1da.
Check out the trailer below. Hit the next page to see how Cooke looks today.
Photos: Josh Heller/Casey Templeton/New York Times
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