Full Court Press by Mike Lupica

G. P. Putnamís Sons 2001 320 pp. 24.95

Copyright © Steven E. Alford 

Mike Lupica has scored again from waaaay outside the three-point line, this time sending up the NBA in Full Court Press.  This so-so novel is redeemed by its steady stream of hilarious one-liners, whip-smart repartee, and genial skewering of owners, agents, players, and anyone else who unwisely stumbles into the gunsights of Lupicaís sparkling wit.

Thirty-five-year-old basketball scout, Eddie Holtz, he of the handsome visage and bad knee, finds himself in Europe, noting unhappily that "the whole continent was mean people with accents."

Specifically, he's in Monte Carlo to scout Earthwind Morton, a man who while in the NBA "tried to put the gross national product of Bogota up his nose."  Morton is fatter, slower, and more narcissistic than ever, but Eddie is overwhelmed by Earthwind's teammate, a diminutive point guard with spectacular ball-handling skills.  Approaching him after the game, Eddie is stunned to find that the D. Gerard listed in the program isn't a he, but a she.

Dee, thirty-two, informs Eddie that she has been a girl, "my whole life, practically."

An uptown girl of mixed race who played at DeWitt Clinton high, Dee migrated to Europe following her ne'er-do-well, entrepreneur father, Cecil "Cool Daddy" Cody.  She enrolled in the American school in Paris, married, divorced, and became a bar owner, playing throughout Europe on several different teams before being discovered by Eddie.

Eddie brings her back to the States to play for the hapless New York Knights.  Billionaire owner Michael de la Cruz bought the team and paid the Knicks a fortune to allow them to share the Garden.

The suspiciously Trump-like De la Cruz is a decent boss, but "Eddie ... knew that it didn't matter how guys like De la Cruz made their big fortunes, their real career was being famous."

Is Dee just a publicity stunt for a cellar-dwelling team or a Girl With Game?  Knight's coach Bobby Carlino has no doubt as he maliciously subjects her to a string of humiliations that test Dee both as a player and a woman.

We follow Dee through the latter part of the season, playing against such types as "a 7-2 load from Oklahoma State named Whup Griffin, who reminded Dee of a grain silo, just not as smart."

Dee is a woman with a past, however, haunted by her charming and unscrupulous father, as well as her ex-husband Jeremy, "who had once told her never to use irony in an undeveloped country.  He usually meant France, but Dee was pretty sure it applied to the modern NBA, too."

Florida readers will be charmed to know that the playoff hopes of the Knights rest with the outcome of their series with the Miami Heat.  The Heat are coached by a fellow named Roiles, described with confidently fractured syntax by a Knight player as  "another poodle thinks people come out to watch him run up and down the sideline like someone set his tail on fire."

Coaches come and go, love flourishes, is photographed, and appears on the front page of the New York papers, and the fate of the team comes to rest in apprehensive Dee's capable hands.

Character is established colorfully but woodenly by suddenly appearing pages of back-story that are long enough to inspire a delay of novel penalty.  However, what deficiencies Lupica has as a serious stylist are more than made up for the hoo-hah exchanges that routinely violated most every PC rule in the book.

Buy this one for the plane, but avoid drinking liquids, as they're liable to shoot straight out your nose.  You've been warned.