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The Jump    by Ian O'Connor order for
by Ian O'Connor
Order:  USA  Can
Rodale, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

The Jump is a fast-paced tale about one family's journey out of the projects to a life of comparative luxury, via the conduit of basketball. Though the book outwardly portrays Sebastian Telfair's experiences, the inner story is about the larger world of professional basketball, and the increasing influence it brings to bear on athletic programs for children around the country.

Sebastian's story is a familiar one, that of a kid raised in the projects with little money, a large family and a largely absent father. However, there are some differences: his father is absent because of circumstances (he spent some years in prison), not by choice, and comes home when released; his mother is a caring woman who tries to bring up her kids in the best way she knows how, which is all any of us can do; and it's a close-knit family. Sebastian grows up relatively untroubled, despite the many negatives in his neighborhood.

Inspired by the success of their cousin, Stephon Marbury, as an NBA star, the Telfair family set their sights on the NBA as a way out of poverty. At first they center their hopes on Jamel Thomas, their adopted son who's playing ball at Providence. When the draft doesn't pick him up, they re-focus their strategy on Sebastian, who as an eightth grade student promises to be every bit as talented as his cousin, Stephon. Thereafter, the story is mainly about who you know, what connections they have, and how they can help you win the ultimate prize of the NBA draft and its accompanying money deals.

The book relates all the behind-the-scenes dealing and finagling that goes with grooming a young teenager into a world-class athlete. It has nothing to do with athletics or academics, and everything to do with fame, power and money. From the time Sebastian was ten years old, he was being paid attention in one form or another because of his income potential later down the road - even from high school teacher and coaches.

As an American, married to a basketball enthusiast (my forty-year old husband still plays basketball, and is very good, even for an old man), I of course know that there are all sorts of questionable dealings with athletes at the college level, as evidenced by scandals every few years of false grades, money given to students, and wild parties offered as recruiting incentives. However, these are at least nominal adults, even though young and inexperienced. I was astounded and dismayed by the disclosures in this book, that this kind of unethical behavior and attitude is extended all the way to grade school. It angered me that adults running summer athletic camps and basketball programs, supposedly to help the kids, were really trying to help themselves by picking future stars with the potential to make big bucks.

It is truly fascinating to read about the preparation and effort that is put into some of these kids, when the final outcome won't be decided until years later. Ian O'Conner was given good access to the Telfair family, and his unbiased and clear portrayal of their lives and thoughts, as well as the actions and plans of the people around them, really is quite shocking, in its matter-of-fact recital.

I found the message that money is true success the most disturbing, and the most saddening. When Jamal didn't make the NBA draft, his family viewed it as a failure, despite the fact that he attended a prestigious college and (I'm assuming) earned a degree! He made it out of the projects, received an education, and is currently earning good money in Europe. I wish I was that much of a failure. The bottom line is, that in America, there are many opportunities to succeed, not only by way of sports. With Sebastian's good grades and decent SAT score, he could have attended practically the college of his choice, given his financial and minority status, which would have garnered him all kinds of scholarships. His family wouldn't have been able to leave the projects so easily then, but I'm actually a little confused that Jamel's $150,000 a year salary as a single person hadn't already helped them to a better clime.

I'm not sure if my reaction is the intended one for this book, or if it's supposed to be more about the exciting drama behind the power plays in these young athletes' lives. Either way, The Jump is an entertaining and eye-opening read, which I recommend to anyone, fan of basketball or not.

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