Skip to Content

The Basketball Diaries

The Basketball Diaries

Jim Carroll's semi-autobiographical book The Basketball Stories is a must see

If you love a dark tale of drugs, desperation and a little sexual perversion to go along with it all (we could say “real life” after all) and you don’t happen to have seen the movie, The Basketball Diaries, then please do something to rectify this forthwith!

But before you do so – it’s essential to know where the movie comes from and why. The Basketball Diaries is set in New York – a city very famous for its dark side. The book was originally penned in 1978 by punk poet and musician Jim Carroll. It’s semi-autobiographical based on Jim’s early life experiences in the Big Apple – a time when he was obsessed with basketball but simultaneously descending into a life of drug addiction.

On a slightly lighter note for most female movie fans, the 1995 movie which was directed by Scott Kalvert and stars a young Leonardo DiCaprio – which will no doubt set a few pulses racing. It also stars Mark Wahlberg, Lorraine Bracco and James Madio. Leo DiCaprio of course plays the lead role as the promising young basketball player Jim Carroll, who sadly gets hooked on heroin along with some of his friends.

The original book was the collection of diaries Caroll maintained when he was growing up and living this life for real. It covers his life between the ages of 12 and 16 in the mid-1960s, a time when basketball was all-important until his coming of age at a difficult time in a difficult city meant that drugs also became increasingly important.

The movie stays very true to Carroll’s original work. The basketball court starts out as being Jim’s world and his entire life is centred on his sport. In fact, the basketball court then becomes something of a metaphor for the world the author creates in his own mind. Of course, you have to see it to “get” all this – and it is superbly done. But it’s one of those rare occasions too when, if you read the book first, you aren’t disappointed at every turn by the movie.

Also, if ever you have the opportunity, you should visit New York and see the area where Carroll lived and try to picture yourself in the mid 60s, in order to see the kind of basketball games he watched and played in.

Watching a big league game of basketball in New York really is like entering a whole new world so it’s easy to see where Jim Carroll drew his inspiration from. Basketball has a real counter-culture of its own.

Sadly, Jim Carroll died in 2009 aged 60 due to a heart attack. He will always be best remembered for his work on the Basketball Diaries – and deservedly so; it is dark and enthralling.