William Johnson's Reviews > The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty

The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski
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's review
Mar 27, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010, since-joining-goodreads, hardwood-tales, coney-island-trilogy, jersey
Read from April 01 to 17, 2010 , read count: 1

One of the biggest debates is whether sports is truly just a game or not. There are those confusing NBA commercials where they say ‘basketball is just a game. But sometimes it isn’t.’ Pro athletes, who clearly represent the majority of basketball players in people’s households (due to the exposure, etc), seem to embody this debate mainly because of their large contracts and the seemingly simple nature of their jobs (shoot a ball into a net and go home to a mansion). People forget the endless travel, time away from family, and the intense scrutiny of success/failure.

But even when taking into account all those things, the question still needs to be asked: is basketball, and sports in general, just a game? I’ve read a trilogy of sorts now, starting with Darcy Frey’s The Last Shot, continuing with it’s unofficial sequel The Jump, and now with the sidequel of sorts, The Miracle of St. Anthony. A lot of what happens in The Miracle of St. Anthony happens at the same exact time as The Jump and some of the events are even referenced. . .but there couldn’t be a completely different world between the Coney Island setting and Sebastian Telfair’s life in the Jump only miles away from the boys in The Miracle of St. Anthony in Jersey City, New Jersey.

The question asked in all three of these books is whether sports, and more importantly, the game of basketball, is just a game. In my view, people need to look at the NBA as an elite job (which it is really). People work hard to get that job (just like a business major in college gets their degree and moves up in the world). The time and dedication comes easy for some and not for others but, most importantly, in some areas of the United States, basketball is the ONLY job prospect. Remember, the NBA, and even the college game, is an elite job and only a select few get in. Imagine it as your only option? Your chances in life get smaller and smaller.

And that is the Miracle, indeed, of The Miracle of St. Anthony, because in a world where the options are limited for children, and basketball is MORE then a game and a ticket to success or failure, there is a coach named Bob Hurley Sr who takes the lowest of the low (low income, low values, low options, low environment. . .the list could go on) and propels them forward into areas they couldn’t imagine being in. The neighborhood of Jersey City is surrounded by negative energy and while Coach Hurley may scream his eyes out at his boys, he also makes basketball more than a game but a choice and lifestyle that leads to success.

St. Anthony, the legendary high school basketball school, is the focus of this book that manages to chronicle more then just the school and it’s quest for a perfect 30-0 season, but the lives of a misfit group of kids who, unlike former St. Anthony alumni, seem to be going nowhere and are failing to grasp Hurley’s philosophy. The author, Adrian Wojnarowski, does a marvelous job of depicting Coach Hurley through the eyes of the students who fail to understand him. You will read this book’s first few chapters and simply say, ‘this dude is an asshole’. But as you slowly buy into his philosophy and learn what he’s done for all the other kids at St. Anthony over the years, you start to like the guy and realize that a few angry tirades about making a bad pass or missing a free throw is just one tiny part of making the kids, who excel at almost nothing BUT basketball, use their on court success as segways into real life.

The one problem with the book is it’s complete failure to grasp time. Sometimes you are not sure what year or day or even game the book is talking about and, through not fault of the author, so many people have the same frickin’ name that it gets confusing when a dialogue box goes ‘Bob said, Bobby said, Bob said, Rick said, Rick said’, etc etc. I was also a little disappointed the book didn’t pack a dramatic punch. I felt for the boys in the book, especially the book’s saddest case, Lamar Alston, but never really felt compelled to find out what happened to them. The main point of interest is, in the end, Hurley.

Hurley is a weird figure. Even though I warmed to him, I didn’t necessarily like his approach to coaching (the fiery kind) though I did realize the amazing things he did for kids in a crappy town with no options. I appreciate the man and SOME if not all of his methods. A reader may be conflicted with how they look at the main focus of the book. If you end up hating him. . .this book will be a long haul. If you are intrigued, like I am, the book is a fun adventure. If you love the guy, then you are in heaven.

The Last Shot is the perfect inner-city Is-Basketball-Just-A-Game? book and it is unfortunate I have to compare books of its ilk to The Last Shot because it really isn’t fair. The Jump was a bit passionless but tapped into the professional aspects of basketball and the price of fame while this book tends to focus on the aspects of risk/reward and the idea of role models. The three books together manage to give you a complete perspective, even if it is within a small radius, of life from the streets, to the gym, to even the NBA (complete with success and failure in all areas).

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Reading Progress

04/01/2010 page 6
1.54% "I read the long prologue too. . .great book so far. I can tell I'm going to cry."
04/02/2010 page 31
7.95% "Depressing as f&*^! But great. . ."
04/03/2010 page 50
12.82% "Good book. . .it's taking it's time and the author strays a bit but still good."
04/10/2010 page 130
33.33% "Finally picking up some momentum. The author doesn't have a sense of time or place until the basketball season starts."
04/13/2010 page 190
48.72% "Momentum is in favor of this one. I couldn't put this down last night as my eyes started to dry up from lack of sleep."
04/14/2010 page 252
64.62% "awesome"
04/15/2010 page 279
71.54% "Boo ya! The perfect regular season. I was nervous just reading it. . .imagine the players."
04/15/2010 page 300
76.92% "I'm going to the couch to finish this awesome motha. . ."
04/16/2010 page 330
84.62% "Damn. I was just too tired to finish! Arg! Almost there."
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