by Rick Reilly, Doubleday, $23.95
Ring Lardner was one of America's greatest writers of sports
fiction, and his most memorable character was pitcher Jack Keefe
in the book You Know Me Al, a small-town huckleberry who was as
dumb as a pair of cleats. SI's Reilly has concocted an
end-of-the-century update of Lardner's classic riff, switching
the setting from baseball to the NBA. Of course nowadays it's
hard to imagine anyone growing up as naive as Keefe, unless he
lived in a cave. But that's precisely where 7'8" Maurice (Slo-Mo)
Finsternick comes from: a spelunking cult of cave dwellers. By a
series of events too complicated to describe here, Finsternick
learns to make long-range hook shots with such proficiency that
he finds himself in the pros.
There is one key difference between Slo-Mo and Keefe: Keefe was
an arrogant jackass, and when someone suckered him, it served him
right. But Slo-Mo is a cartoon sweetie pie (think Bullwinkle
Moose in hightops), and one cringes as NBA sharks surround and
devour him, mouthful by gory mouthful. His agent, a former
Roto-Rooter man, robs him blind; fans mercilessly jeer him (Geek!
Wimp!/Dork and punk!/ Fin-ster-nick/Can-not dunk!); and the
wicked Barter Soals, a footwear executive, blackmails him into
endorsing Bombs: blue-and-black bomb-shaped shoes that make
insufferable ticking noises as Slo-Mo runs the floor.
Reilly's heavy-handed moral--that mutual respect and decency ought
to rule pro sports as much as any other sphere of life--doesn't
make the book any less funny. But something else does, at least
to this reader: Slo-Mo's depraved, true-to-life teammates, whose
naughty jokes are so adolescent, only an adolescent could enjoy
them. But that is also why, in all seriousness, this could be a
wonderful book for teenagers, especially those who idolize pro
athletes to excess. It might lead them to ask themselves the same
question Slo-Mo ends up asking: Given the greed, egomania and
just plain cruelty in pro basketball today, how much do I really
love this game?
November 15, 1999
by Tim Green, Warner Books, $24.00
In this grim, violent potboiler by Green, a sportscaster and
former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman, the heroine,
lawyer-agent Madison McCall, says, it's hard to find "someone who
can play in the NFL or the NBA who's still a decent human being."
Here, too, a footwear executive is cast as Mephistopheles. This
time it's Kurt Lunden of Zeus Shoes. To plug his new line of
Killer shoes he needs a spokesman who embodies "sex, drugs,
perversion, profanity and irreverence...." He finds that
spokesman in Trane Jones, an unstoppable running back who wakes
up with a dead woman in a blood-soaked bed before the reader gets
past page 5. Sucked into the ensuing evil machinations is Clark
Cromwell, a Fundamentalist Christian fullback who is only
marginally brighter than Slo-Mo Finsternick. Can this
simple-minded lug survive the swirl of corruption that sucks him
ever downward? You won't much care.
But you might care that Green and Reilly, two very different
authors, both of whom know the backstage realities of pro sports,
apparently see the NBA and the NFL as Sodom and Gomorrah,
respectively. And Madison McCall leaves us with this warning:
"It's getting worse."