No one can accuse Jayson Williams of not holding himself to a high standard about his book, Loose Balls. Admittedly I’m probably the wrong person to interpret Williams’s claim that Loose Balls will do for basketball the same thing Jim Bouton’s classic book Ball Four did for baseball. I’ve never read Ball Four. But I have read The Bronx Zoo, Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock’s equally revered account of the circus sideshow known as the 1978 New York Yankees. I can tell you Loose Balls ain’t The Bronx Zoo.
The way Williams advertises Loose Balls is misleading. Jayson Williams and his co-author, Steve Friedman, promise a no-holds-barred look at life in the NBA. Loose Balls comes off as more of an autobiography told in an extremely sporadic and random fashion. When Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander wrote a Harlem Globetrotter’s account of Williams getting drunk and accidentally killing his limo driver with a shotgun recently, Telander referred to Loose Balls as an autobiography. There’s a good reason for the mistake: A large chunk of the stories in Loose Balls have nothing to do with basketball at all. Many don’t have anything to do with the NBA.
The stories Williams tells in Loose Balls are frustratingly random. One minute, Williams will be talking about life in Ritter, South Carolina, where he spent several years of his childhood. The next, he’ll be giving his opinions on Larry Bird or Michael Jordan. There are whole chapters in Loose Balls which have little – if anything at all – to do with life in the NBA; there's even an entire chapter about college basketball. I really hate to be sitting here calling out Williams on his apparent lack of focus, because it’s not like the stories he tells aren’t interesting. Many of them are. It’s just that after ten different stories about his childhood, you’ll want to call him up and ask him to get back to the subject the book is supposed to be about. I certainly understand why he would want to talk about many of the subjects he brings up - no one should have to watch their siblings go through what his sisters did. Still, these are things which Williams could have covered in an entirely separate autobiography.
When Williams does talk about life in the NBA, his opinions are strong, as he promises, and many of his anecdotes are funny. He makes many good arguments for certain subjects. As fans, we tend to treat athletes as commodities much of the time, and Williams confesses that he has turned down autographs because people didn’t ask nicely. Many fans forget that common courtesy doesn’t take days off, and so Williams understandably argues that he should be allowed to say no if an autograph seeker doesn’t say “please.” Williams also makes a case for why athletes should be required to take real jobs during the offseason, something Williams himself is not averse to doing. He also says an athlete should be getting paid before being required to bring home the championship trophy, an opinion that makes him look hypocritical because here’s a guy making oodles of money while playing on a Nets team which was mediocre to poor during his years there.
Williams also offers some amusing stories about underrated players, cheap players, who the worst floppers are, the smelliest players, and things of that nature. He seems almost obsessed with how good Michael Jordan was, even going as far as to call him underrated despite everything that’s been said or written about His Airness.
Thing is, many sections feel incomplete. Williams includes a chapter on what playing basketball is like in certain cities, but he includes less than half the cities with NBA teams. And although the stories and opinions are told in a way which makes Williams seem very affable, it’s not like he conjures up anything earth-shattering. You could get about 90 percent of Williams’s opinions from almost anyone in basketball, or even many fans.
Worse than that is that Williams tries to come off as affable even though he has a dark side which surfaces and wreaks havoc sometimes. This is a guy who laughs at how he was traded by the Phoenix Suns to the Philadelphia 76ers two months after the Suns drafted him. Williams didn’t want to be drafted by the Suns, and when he was, he did everything he could to raise hell so they would get rid of him. He is also a guy who very nearly left one of his friends to drown in the ocean, and who fired a shotgun blast so close to New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet, it knocked Chrebet out cold. His attitude toward things like this is very casual, so you end up thinking the whole episode with the limo driver a few years ago was almost inevitable and not just a freak accident. This is seriously frustrating because you get confused about just who the real Jayson Williams is.
Loose Balls is amusing and may teach people who are completely in the dark a few things about life in professional sports. But if you’re looking for a scathing insider’s look at the NBA, you can do better. If you’re looking for a book about NBA life at all, in fact, you can do better.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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