Published on: March 11, 2005
I’ve always been a big fan of Mike Lupica, the brash, outspoken and highly opinionated sports columnist for the NY Daily News
as well as a regular on ESPN’s “Sports Reporters.” (Can’t imagine why “brash” and opinionated” would be so appealing…)
These days, Lupica has two very different novels in bookstores, each of which is a terrific read.
“Too Far” takes place in a Long Island town where the teenaged manager of the highly ranked high school basketball team has washed up on the shore, presumably murdered. A reporter from the high school paper teams up with a washed-up, self-pitying columnist, Ben Mitchell, to find out if the kid’s death has anything to do with allegations of hazing among members of the team – hazing that may have gone too far. This is a fast moving, twisting and turning novel, with Lupica’s command of both the mystery form and his understanding of sports both serving the story well. It also makes a serious point as it builds to an unexpected ending – that communities lionize their sports heroes way out of proportion, and put the blinders on when it comes to these players’ personal behavior and responsibility. I happen to live in just such a community – and Lupica has it dead-on.
While his other novel, “Travel Team,” also takes place in a Long Island town and uses basketball as its backdrop, it is a book written for teenaged readers – but I have to admit that I loved every page of it. “Travel Team” is written from the perspective of 12-year-old Danny Walker, a wonderfully talented basketball player who has been cut from his age group’s travel team because he is too small. The coach, you see, has big plans for the team, and he only wants big kids…and plans to push them as hard as he has to in order to reach the championship game. Danny is devastated…but help comes from an unexpected place as Danny forms yet another travel team made up of misfits and less talented players – and yes, even a girl. The story may be about kids and basketball, but the book is about heart – and it is flat-out inspiring without ever being overly sentimental or maudlin.
Lupica is a writer at the top of his game…and you should make some time for him in your schedule.
Being that I spent most of the week in Canada (doing some speechifying for the Canadian government), I thought it appropriate to recommend a couple of British Columbia wines this week – a 2002 Jackson-Triggs Merlot Proprietor’s Reserve from the Okanagan Valley, and an Inniskillin Lake Bench Reserve Meritage. Both were excellent reds; the Merlot complemented a terrific salmon that I enjoyed at Earl’s, and the Meritage was perfect with lobster ravioli at a restaurant called Joey Tomato’s (both in Calgary, near the airport…time was such that I had little time to explore, which broke my heart).
Finally, if you didn’t see it on PBS, you should make an effort to rent Ken Burns’s excellent documentary “Unforgivable Blackness,” the story of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight-boxing champion of the world. It is a story not just about boxing, but about a black man trying to live without restraints during the early days of the 20th century, and facing prejudice and unspeakable insults from the sport he loved. Johnson was no saint, anything but, which makes the story all the more interesting as he attempts to do what he wants while defying society’s attempts to define him. It is yet another wonderful piece of work from Burns, who gave us such landmark documentaries as ‘Baseball” and “The Civil War.”
Hey, have a good weekend.