Tag Archives: NBA

The roots of LeBron’s ascendance to become a Shooting Star

LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger collaborate on this memoir of James' early years and high school career.

These are exciting days for LeBron James.

After some minor early season struggles adjusting to playing with fading superstar Shaquille O’Neal, his Cleveland Cavaliers are riding an 11-game winning streak and sit  atop the league’s standings.

He is putting up video-game like statistics on a nightly basis, often bringing out even more jaw dropping dimensions to his game in the process.  His most recent revelations: channeling Michael Jordan’s “spectacular move” in the 1991 finals against the Los Angeles Lakers when he started going for a right hand dunk, switched gears in mid-air, and went to his left hand off the glass; and putting on a three-point shooting display against the New York Knicks that saw him draining shots from closer and closer to half court and had the Knicks admit later that they were standing around and watching him in awe.

And he’s looking at possibly the most lucrative contract in league history this summer, when he could become a free agent.

The “smart money” says James is headed to the bright lights of New York, the nation’s cultural capital and the base for close friend Jay-Z.

I’m not so sure.

The Cavaliers are built to maintain their elite status for the foreseeable future. James already has all the exposure he could possibly want.

Above all, he’s deeply tied to Ohio and his hometown of Akron.

James and Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger explain just how deep the bond runs in Shooting Stars, James’ memoir of growing up in Akron and forging unshakable times with his basketball teammates and brothers as they set out on their quest to win a national championship.

James comes from humble roots, and writes openly about moving around many times during his early years after his then-16-year-old mother Gloria gave birth to him.

He also talks about learning to play basketball and his dawning awareness of his emerging talents.

But Shooting Stars is at base a paean to the brotherhood he formed with Dru Joyce, or “Little Dru”, burly big man Sian Cotton, hard-headed Romeo Travis, and mature role player Willie Cotton during the course of their years playing first on an AAU team, and then later for Catholic School St. Vincent-St. Mary.

In a move that basketball fans will recognize as typical of how James plays the game, he shifts a lot of the attention to his teammates.

Other reviews have criticized the book for James’ venting at the media and for giving insufficient insight into James’ inner thoughts, and I will say that I found the language a bit stilted and unnatural sounding at parts.   His articulation of, and movement toward, the realization of the dream the teammates hatched also feels a tad formulaic.

That said,  James writes openly about how he is haunted by his failure to deliver in a precious few games during the course of his record-setting his school career, and how he remembers those moments far more vividly than the myriad successes he achieved.

I could relate to that.

I still remember poor decisions I made at the end of two YMCA League games on a team with my brother Mike and our dear friend Arthur Sneider in 1993.

Beyond that, James also speaks about the arrogance and dissension that gripped the team during its junior year and contributed to that being the only season in which they did not win the state championship.   To some degree, this disharmony came about due to the coaching change from the fiery Keith Dambrot,  a white coach whose use of a racial epithet had led to the implosion of his NCAA coaching career, to Dru Joyce, or Big Dru.

As Shakespeare famously wrote, though, all’s well that ends well, and the reader can rest assured that life on and off the court has a happy ending, at least through the end of high school.

Shooting Stars may not be great literature, but it is an entertaining look at one of the sporting world’s greatest stars, who is possibly heading toward his first of many NBA championships and who faces a possibly career changing decision this summer.

Little known hoops hero Melvin Juette

Melvin Juette lost his ability to walk in a gang-related shooting in Chicago, but his basketball career was just beginning.

Melvin Juette lost his ability to walk in a gang-related shooting in Chicago, but his basketball career was just beginning.

The NBA has already seen plenty of highlights and exciting plot lines, ranging from the Boston Celtics’ emphatic answer to the question of whether they would have a letdown  after they won their 17th championship to equally decisive responses about whether LeBron James and Chris Paul are the best player and point guard in the game, respectively.

Hoops junkies looking for an unusual fix should consider reading Melvin Juette’s memoir, Wheelchair Warrior: Gangs, Disability and Basketball.

For those of us in the Chicago area, Melvin is a local boy who came up on the South Side.  He grew up in an intact two-family home, but started to run the streets during his teen years. 

A bullet shot during a dispute between two other young men ripped through Juette’s spinal cord when he was just 16 years old.  While he was not killed, he would never walk again.

Despite this devastating loss, Juette says that his paralysis was both the “best and worst thing that happened.”  In addition to keeping him alive and out of prison, Juette’s participation in wheelchair basketball is a major factor in his paralysis being the best thing that happened to him.

He has had a distinguished career. 

From not initially knowing what to do on the court, Juette quickly dedicated himself to the game and saw significant success.  Eventually, Juette played for the U.S. National Wheelchair Basketball team in many tournaments, winning gold on numerous occasions.

The books is slight, but powerful.  People unfamiliar with wheelchair basketball will recognize the same passion they see in a college basketball game while reading Juette’s description. 

He also talks forthrightly about social challengese with women, the politics of interracial dating and marriage-Juette is black, while his first and second wives have both beenn black-the difficulties he encountered in school, the need he felt to leave Chicago in order to reach his potential and the bitter disappointment he felt falling just short of the gold medal twice in the Paralympic Games.

Juette writes very much as if he speaks, which allows the reader to feel as if he is part of a conversation.  His story is sandwiched by introductory and summary comments by social professor Ronald Berger.  Berger’s essays frame Juette’s experience in more academic terms than Juette’s straightforward language.

The book has some weak points 

Juette’s account is a bit sparse in talking about his and other family member’ gang involvement, and, while the book is long in honesty in many areas, it is a bit thin on reflection and emotional insight.   The contrast between Juette and Berger’s writing style  also can be a bit jarring.

These flaws are not fatal, though.  For people who love hoops, disability or both, Wheelchair Warrior is informative, inspirational and worth the time.