Titled in reference to the Gatorade slogan that enticed a generation of kids to emulate the unmatchable success of Michael Jordan, "I Wanna Be Like Mike" guides viewers through eligibility changes in the NBA drafting system, including the lowering of age requirements, the increase in international draftees, and how drafting trends have been strongly influenced by advertising and entertainment in the years since Jordan’s rise to stardom.
The crossover relationship between sports and entertainment is touched on with an emphasis on rap culture, highlighting the role of public image in enticing young players to the sport. Through informational title cards and interviews with industry professionals including Mike Moreau (IMB Basketball Academy), Mitch Kupchak (General Manager of the LA Lakers) and Steve Lavin (former head coach of UCLA), we learn about the various manipulations that lead many young athletes to believe their chances for success are higher than should be realistically set.
In contrast to the veteran professionals who emphasize the importance of education as a backup to the athletic track, the film follows the career trajectory of Ricky Sanchez, an aspiring basketball star from Puerto Rico. Drafted at the age of 17, Ricky personifies the trend in young, international draftees and shares the perspective of an up-and-comer who turns down a scholarship in favor of declaring for the NBA draft. An amicable and humble young man, Ricky cites Michael Jordan as an inspiration in his life, describes basketball as his “true love” and defends his decision to pursue a sports career over college.
Focusing on the fact that it is now acceptable for athletes to declare for the draft as early as high school, the pros opine that many students are drafted believing their accomplishments are skill-based when the truth may have more to do with behind-the-scenes financial influence and the corrupt nature of certain amateur unions and even high school coaches.
Throughout the film the coaches and managers describe the way unrealistic expectations are established for young players through the glamorization of the individual instead of the value of team. By focusing on exceptions, such as LeBron James and other wunderkind athletes, basketball is forgotten as a collaborative sport, placing importance instead on celebrity players and anything associated with them – jersey numbers, footwear, the cars they drive, the women they attract and the money they make. Ricky, on the other hand, maintains he made the right choice for himself and that his ability to play basketball at any professional level is an opportunity to be grateful for.