“Swee’pea: The Story of Lloyd Daniels and Other Playground Basketball Legends” by John Valenti and Ron Naclerio
Basketball, race, society
July 5, 2016 (updated version of book first published November 1990)
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)
Lloyd Daniels seemed to have it all – at least when it came to his status as a playground basketball legend in New York City. He had dreams of making it to the NBA and nothing was going to stop him. However, there were plenty of thing that DID derail the young man’s drams and they make for a very sad tale. Lloyd’s dilemma is not uncommon and his story, along with several other playground legends, is expertly captured in this compelling book by John Valenti.
The book was first published in 1990 when Daniels, nicknamed “Swee’pea” after the character in the Popeye cartoons, was eye-opening for what it revealed about life in the inner city for these basketball players. They are so focused on basketball that other options, such as education, and perils, such as drugs and street crime, are either ignored or the young man succumbs to them.
Daniels’ story is particularly sad, as he was provided so many chances to succeed. He was enrolled at a community college without a high school diploma or GED, played on a basketball team with NBA talent at a drug rehabilitation facility, enrolled in a major college without said diploma or even passing grades in community college and most importantly, many opportunities to recover from his drug addiction. It is a fascinating tale, mostly sad, at times irritating, but always compelling.
There are many other stories of players who had the same types of struggles as Daniels – mostly with the same fate, but a few success stories such as Kenny Anderson. While they made for good reading, I thought they were a bit of a distraction from the main story of Daniels. Nonetheless, because the goal of the book was to make the reader become more aware of these stories, it was good that they were included.
If a reader read the original book in 1990, the updated information is very good and helps explain the story in more depth. If the reader is like me and this version is the first time he or she has read the book, it is well worth the time to read in order to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the life and trappings that a playground basketball star will encounter.
I wish to thank Atria Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Book Format Read: