I can’t fault Lupica’s Full Court Press for not being what I thought it was going to be.
When I picked this book up from the bargain bin all those years ago—probably at Barnes & Noble—I thought it was a mystery novel set in the milieu of professional sports. There are a lot of those out there in the world. Harlan Coben used to write a lot of them featuring his sports agent hero Myron Bolitar. Of course, Dick Francis had the world of professional horse racing pretty sewed up. Even Robert B. Parker wrote Double Play, which featured Jackie Robinson in his prime.
Maybe you can forgive my assumption that Mike Lupica, famous sports writer, was following in the same footsteps. A sports-related mystery.
Only, Full Court Press is not a mystery novel set in the milieu of professional sports. It is a sports novel set in the milieu of professional sports. I’m not going as far as to say it is literature that takes place in a professional sports setting, because I do believe that, at its heart, it is un-pretentious entertainment with few literary aspirations. Maybe not entirely fluff, but a piece of entertainment nonetheless. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Here’s the premise. Dee Gerard becomes the first woman to play in the NBA. She is “discovered” in Europe by New York Knights scout Eddie Holtz. Dee is not some down-and-out player lifted from poverty and obscurity. She’s already a successful café owner in her 30s. She just happens to love the game of basketball, and, after seeing her play, Holtz has to have her for the Knights. There are obstacles, including the coach of the Knights. And, there’s the expected media circus. But, Dee does indeed get to play in the NBA. Holtz later becomes her lover, and then her coach. Then this happens and that happens, but nothing too surprising, and at the end of the book—SPOILERS—the Knights are heading into the playoffs. That’s where the book ends. Not the playoffs themselves, which the Knights aren’t expected to win. In fact, Dee is not even going to accept a long-term contract with the team, having proven everything she needed to, both to herself and to others. She and Eddie Holtz are returning to Europe together. Happy ending. Aw . . .
This book is populated with characters that seem outlandish and familiar at the same time. The other players on the team, of course. The owner of the Knights, Michael De La Cruz, makes me think of Mark Cuban for some self-promoting reason. Dee’s agent is a Suge Knight type, especially in his negotiating tactics.
Lupica obviously understands both the sport and business of basketball. He kept my interest throughout the novel, with lively character interactions and a quick pace. There were moments that were humorous, but I didn’t laugh enough that I would consider this novel to be a comedy as some other readers have described it. It was more that the characters themselves and some of the situations were funny at times.
The progression of the story is familiar to anyone who’s ever watched any sports movie, from Hoosiers and Bull Durham to any of the Rocky movies, including Creed. The ultimate outcome, while satisfying, was never really in doubt. In some ways, the ending seems rushed, in fact.
I liked this one enough to read more of Lupica’s stuff. I think I have another of his novels in my library closet.
This one gets a solid B from this reviewer.