Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: "The Last Shot" by Darcy Frey

Last month when I made a list of the ten best high school and college basketball books I had read, I also asked for some suggestions. One of the ones that kept coming up was The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams, by Darcy Frey.

After reading what the book was about, it seemed right up my alley, so I got it and just finished reading it. For anyone that loves basketball, or a look at the inner city, or especially both, this is a fantastic read. Frey does a great job of capturing what life is like for four teenagers in Coney Island in the mid-90s. He gives the setting in this paragraph, and I can only hope that at some time I write something as good as this paragraph.

The experiment of public housing, which has worked throughout the country to isolate its impoverished and predominantly black tenants from the hearts of their cities, may have succeeded here with even greater efficiency because of Coney Island's utter remoteness. On this peninsula, at the southern tip of Brooklyn, there are almost no stores, no trees, no police; nothing, in fact, but block after block of gray-cement project - hulking, prisonlike, and jutting straight into the sea. Most summer night now, an amorphous unease settles over Coney Island, as apartments become stifling and the streets fall prey to the gangs and drug dealers. Options are limited: to the south is the stiff gray meringue of the Atlanic; to the north, more than ten miles away, one can just make out the Statue of Liberty and the glass-and-steel spires of Manhattan's financial district. Officially, Coney Island is part of the endless phantasmagoria that is New York City. But on a night like this, as the dealers set up their drug marts in streets and alleyways, and the sounds of sirens and gunfire keep pace with the darkening sky, it feels like the end of the world. (3-4)
The most famous player that Frey writes about is certainly Stephon Marbury, and it helps you understand why he turned out the way he did. He was a freshman at the time, and has a large sense of entitlement (most famously when he orders McDonald's and just assumes that Frey will be paying for it). But looking at the circumstances described by Frey, it is hard to blame him. He is enabled by coaches at all levels, and given everything he wanted because of his basketball skills. That is the way that the system is set up.

Without a doubt, the most heartbreaking part of the story is He is a kid that gives maximum effort - while other kids are playing pickup games, he is doing individual drills; while other kids are eating lunch, he is studying for the SAT. But he is hamstrung by the fact that his education was so poor early in life that he does not have the basic knowledge and foundation that most people do. He lives in the worst part of Coney Island. He comes from a single parent home. He is the character that you root for all book long (and I don't want to say anymore because I don't want to spoil it!)

If you like books about basketball, if you like books about society, this is a book I would highly recommend. If I were to remake my list, this book would probably come in number four.

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