The movie begins with scenes of a poor neighborhood in the Bronx with a street-corner basketball game played by Jamal Wallace and his friends. Above them in a corner apartment lives William Forrester (Sean Connery).
Nobody has ever seen Connery but the neighborhood kids have many myths about him including that he murdered somebody years ago and is hiding up there.
On a dare, the kids force Jamal to sneak into Connery's apartment and steal something. He goes up the fire escape and enters Connery's apartment. He's about to put an old knife in his backpack when Connery appears out of nowhere and scares Jamal who drops his backpack and runs away.
The next day, while on the street corner, a backpack comes flying to the ground just missing Jamal.
Jamal brings his backpack home and starts to do his homework. When he opens up his journal of his writing, he notices that every page has corrections and notations about improving the writing. Jamal goes back to Connery's apartment and Connery is very rude to him and doesn't want to talk. After a few more attempts a few days later, Connery finally lets him in.
Connery is so impressed with young Jamal's writing that he decides to help him with his writing skills. When Jamal can't start writing, Connery gives him an old essay he wrote back in 1960 and tells him to start by just copy the beginning of it and see where it takes him. Jamal does and after the first paragraph goes on and writes the essay in his own words and Connery agrees that it's wonderful.
Jamal is a very gifted writer but is an equally gifted basketball player. He doesn't like to stand out in school so he maintains a C average. He takes some kind of test, they don't say but it's probably an SAT test or something and has scored unusually high. So high in fact, that a high profile private high school wants Jamal to come to their school, all expenses paid, and oh yeah, if he wants to play basketball for them, that would be cool too.
Connery convinces Jamal to go to the new school so he does. He also joins the basketball team and leads them to the State Championship.
F. Murray Abraham plays Jamal's instructor and he too is impressed with Jamal's writing. One of the projects he gives him is to write about an old book written by William Forrester (Connery). A friend shows Jamal an original copy of the book that her father gave her and Jamal is stunned to see Connery's picture on the inside cover.
He goes back to Connery and wants to find out more about him but Connery is very apprehensive about revealing anything about his personal life
Connery has been locked in his apartment for so long that he is scared to death to go outside. Jamal finally convinces him to go to a Knicks game but before the game, Connery has some sort of panic attack and can't go on. Eventually, Jamal brings him to Yankee stadium (Jamal's brother works there) and Connery is able to walk out onto the field of the empty stadium, reliving his youth.
This experience opens up Connery and he explains a few things to Jamal. It seems that Connery wrote his now famous book years ago but after the media and book fans wanted to know more and more about Connery and what inspired his writing and so on, he just had to go into hiding. He just couldn't handle all the attention. When his brother died, all the nurse could tell Connery is that she loved his book. His brother was dead in the other room but the nurse just wanted to talk about his book! It was then that he decided to never write another book. He still lives off of the royalties of the book, in the same apartment as he did back then. His book is still extremely popular and he is somewhat legendary for only writing just this one book.
Back at school, F. Murray Abraham is convinced that Jamal's writing is just too good and can't be his original work. The class is given one final assignment, kind of a contest to see who could write the best original essay. Jamal can't come up with anything so he takes the essay he wrote back at Connery's apartment and turns it in.
Turns out that the essay that Connery gave him for inspiration was actually published in the New Yorker back in the 60's. F. Murray Abaraham discovers this and tells Jamal that he could only accept it if Jamal had the permission of Forrester to use the opening of the old essay in Jamal's new work. Jamal refuses, not wanting to expose Connery and invade his privacy.
The school board decides to delay their decision on Jamal until after the State Championship basketball game. The game comes down to the wire and in fact, Jamal is standing on the free throw line, down by one with no time left, shooting two. Even though everyone knows that he never misses free throws, Jamal, upset at being used as a pawn for the school's basketball dreams, misses both free throws.
The board decides that Jamal will be disqualified from the essay competion and may even be expelled.
On the day of the competion, with each student reading their work, the door opens and Connery walks in. F. Murray realizes that it's the famous William Forrester and is speachless. Connery asks permission to read an essay and F. Murray and the school board of course agree to let him.
Connery begins reading an essay about friendship and the films emotional music begins to build. After a while, you don't hear Connery at all, just the music and you see him reading. We see the faces and expressions of the students and faculty, some of them tearing up. Connery ends his essay to a standing ovation.
F. Murray thanks him for coming and asks Connery why it is that he has graced them with his presence and this wonderful essay. Connery says he's there because a friend of his isn't allowed to read his own work. That friend is Jamal and oh by the way, that spectacular essay that Connery just read was written by Jamal.
F. Murray is stunned and the school board is so impressed that Jamal is allowed to stay on.
Connery thanks Jamal for all his help and letting him experience life again. He decides that he wants to go visit his roots in Scotland.
A couple years later, in Jamal's senior year, he gets a visit from an attorney. At first Jamal thinks its just another college recruiter but it turns out that this attorney represents the estate of William Forrester. Connery has just recently died of cancer back in Scotland and has left Jamal a few things.
Jamal opens a package and it's a new, unpublished 2nd novel by William Forrester and Connery has asked that Jamal write the foreward to the new novel.