“Little kids shoot marbles
where the branches break the sun
into graceful shafts of light…
I just want to be pure.”
The Basketball Diaries
The Basketball Diaries (Scott Kalvert, 1995) is an adaptation of poet and memoirist Jim Carroll’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) juvenile diaries chronicling his kaleidoscopic free-fall into the harrowing world of drug addiction. As a member of a seemingly unbeatable high school basketball squad, Jim’s life centers on the basketball court and the court becomes a metaphor for the world in his mind. A best friend who is dying of leukemia, a coach (“Swifty”) who takes unacceptable liberties with the boys on his team, teenage sexual angst, and an appetite for cocaine and heroin all begin to encroach on young Jim’s dream of becoming a basketball star.
Soon, the dark streets of New York become a refuge from his mother’s mounting concern for her son. He cannot go home and his only escape from the reality of the streets is heroin for which he steals, robs and prostitutes himself. Only with the help of Reggie, an older neighborhood friend with whom Jim “picked up a game” now and then, is he able to begin the long journey back to sanity, which ultimately ends with Jim’s incarceration in Riker’s Island. After months in prison, he leaves and later does a talk show about his drug life, after turning down free drugs from his old friend, Pedro.
The film is set in the early 1990s, while Carroll’s actual book recounts experiences from growing up in the 1960s. Jim started out as a practice basketball player, and moved on to write The Basketball Diaries.