Cultural Bias #84 – Hoop Dreams/Nightmares

I just read two books back-to-back that add up to a gripping story:

Basketball Junkie by Chris Herren  (w/Bill Reynolds) – 2011
Fall River Dreams by Bill Reynolds – 1994.

Although I read Junkie first – and could not put it down! – hindsight tells me that the power of the message might be best appreciated by starting with Fall River Dreams.  Either way, the story is what author Rick Telander calls “a beautiful blend of sweetness, pain, and truth” told thru the prisms of basketball, the aspirations of a working class town, the glory of the quest for victory, and the despair of the ravages of drugs.

At the center of all is Chris Herren, whom we meet in Fall River Dreams as the greatest player in the storied history of basketball-crazy Durfee High School.  Reynolds follows Herren and his team through the 1992-93 season, one that falls short of a bid for a state championship but concludes with Herren as the most highly recruited high school player in the country.  Suffice it to say that Reynolds’ narrative lives up to his subtitle: “A Team’s Quest For Glory – A Town’s Search For Its Soul.”  As the proverbial credits roll in the Epilogue, the reader can’t help but wonder about the fate of Herren and Fall River as the young star heads off to Boston College.

In Basketball Junkie, Herren rolls the tape ahead 17 years and gives us the ending with a harrowing tale of rise, fall — more like freefall — and redemption.  His brutally honest story reveals a young man blessed on one side with attributes of extremely rare athletic ability and competitive spirit counter-balanced by an insatiable desire for mind-altering substance.

The former raises him to the heights of the NBA where he actually lives the quintessential boyhood dream of all Massachusetts boys by playing for the Boston Celtics, proudly revealing the shamrock tattoo he received as a kid.  The latter finds him wearing his Celtics uniform and warm-up suit in the Fleet Center parking lot anxiously waiting for his oxycontin dealer while his teammates are engaged in pregame warm-ups on the fabled parquet floor.  You get the impression that things are headed for a major fall.  Your impressions are correct.

After two brief tenures in the NBA, Herren becomes an intercontinental basketball nomad with more stops than an Amtrak local.  Predictably, the train drops him off back in Fall River with no return ticket.  The fact that he’s writing about all of this hints that the ultimate ending is positive, but it sure doesn’t seem that the dots will connect that way while you’re reading the story.

The cool thing about these books is that they convey a powerful message both individually and collectively.  Start with one and you’ll want to read the other.  Either way, you’ll be glad you entered the drama.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld