After a while, I totally forget how I found the books that I have on my list to read. This is a perfect example. I just realized I wanted to read it a couple of weeks ago, checked the reviews, realized it sounded cool but have never heard of it and it's 20 years old. Read it, really enjoyed it.
The Last Shot is a pretty cool book. It's basically a mix of great sociological discovery mixed with the dreams and descriptions of inner city and high school level basketball. Put together, it's a pretty incredible piece of journalism. Frey, the author, basically spent a year living around 3 or 4 up and coming high school basketball players in Coney Island and reporting on all aspects of their lives. In the same vein as the great documentary Hoop Dreams, the author does a great job of really allowing you to see the challenges and difficulties of the lives of these athletes.
While this book is probably a better piece of writing, has more redeeming values and is a far better commentary about our society than many other books that have received higher ratings, it only earns 4 stars because it's not as captivating when read as some of the other books that have received higher ratings. Nonetheless, this is still a very fun book to read. Being a basketball junkie, I found parts of this book fascinating, others exhilarating, while there is also parts that are heartbreaking. As you read this book, you know that many of these players (who are superstars in high school and put most of their futures on the anticipation of their basketball successes), don't make it. But the book is so much more than about just basketball and trying to make it to the NBA. As I said earlier, it's really an insight into a different lifestyle than what many of are used to. In fact, the beauty of this book is to really learn to see and feel what the lives are like of these very gifted but troubled athletes.
One of the really illuminating parts of the book is the commentary Frey makes about the influence of colleges, money, and sponsorship on the whole universes of high school athletics. Through a detailed and frank explanation of how colleges and the NCAA behave, it becomes very clear that the current system of athletics is based nearly solely around money and money alone. The importance of education is secondary to the success of the athletic programs, and the lives of the students athletes are probably of least concern.
Overall, this is a stimulating book and is highly recommended. Obviously you would enjoy it much more if you enjoy the sport of basketball and have an interest in college recruiting. However, even if you are just interested in a slice of life to learn what it's like to live in the poorest areas of Coney Island, this is would be a good book for you.