The Basketball Diaries
By Jim Carroll
The Basketball Diaries is an autobiographical account of Jim Carroll’s life between the ages 12 to 15 in the form of his edited Diary. The story takes place in New York City. In the opening chapters, Jim’s basketball coach, who he suspects is a homosexual, gives Jim’s teammates fake IDs, enabling them to play in the 13-and-under basketball league which they dominate. Jim and his friends are trouble-makers. In addition to basketball, they enjoy drinking, stealing, and sniffing cleaning products in order to get high. After transferring from a Catholic school that he despises, he begins smoking marijuana, often times by himself. His curiosity for drugs grows, as he moves on to opiates and eventually heroin. This combined with some confusing sexual experiences lead to his decision to prostitute himself. Despite having the opportunity to play for his virtually unbeatable high school basketball team, Jim drops out of school. When he returns, he continues his drug use and is eventually sent to prison. After being released from prison after a very short time, the temptation to use drugs still exists, so Jim gives in.
I would recommend this book, especially to young adults. It shows how natural teenage thoughts, confusion, curiosity, and desires, which are very easy to relate to, can cause one to develop into something terrible. The combination of the mean streets of New York City and Jim’s curiosity leads to his experimentation with many drugs and eventual addiction to heroin, and his sexual desires result in confusing encounters and self-prostitution. The way in which these experiences unfold in the life of a developing adolescent is comparable to those of the book Go Ask Alice.
Jim uses basketball as a metaphor for his life off of the court. The game is the only activity that is consistent and causes wholesome happiness in his life. However, even Jim’s Biddie League becomes corrupt due to older players with fake IDs and a coach who has desires toward his young male players. Although Jim is very talented, drugs ruin his dream of becoming a basketball star at the next level. This transition as a player is similar to the change he goes through as a person. As a young child, everyone is innocent, but as Jim grew older he eventually became addicted to various drugs, which ruin part of his life. At the end of the diary, after feeling the negative effects of a usage of heroin, he gets up to puke and exclaims, “I just want to be pure.” In the same way that Jim wants to play the game the way that he used to, he also wants his innocence and purity back. Carroll shows how normal adolescent feelings can turn into disaster under certain circumstances in a way that the reader easily can relate to.
Why is this book “dangerous?”:
This book can be considered controversial for many reasons. The most apparent is the language that Carroll uses. In addition to excessive profanity, he describes obscene sexual situations and thoughts with detail, such as Jim’s and his friends’ responses to nude pictures of lesbians that he found in a wallet that they stole from a woman. It is also sexually controversial because the seemingly responsible coach of Jim’s team likes to touch the little boys in a manner that confuses the author. Later in Jim’s diary, he recalls when he skips school and enters the movie theater with someone who he thinks is a woman. He does not realize the truth until after he has made out with him. However, the most dangerous aspect of the book is the descriptive accounts of Jim’s drug usage. He begins by sniffing cleaning products and drinking beer, moves on to marijuana and LSD, and eventually becomes addicted to heroin. Although he only starts using heroin every once in a while, he ends up describing a period of time when he remains high for four consecutive days, which he describes as “temporary death.” He also has to resort to prostituting himself in order to support the addiction.