Sebastian Telfair is the five-foot-eleven-inch preternaturally talented point guard from Brooklynís Abraham Lincoln High School. He had been told as early as in fourth grade by a nationally renowned talent scout that he was the best player in his age group in the whole country. Such is the burden that some bear! Journalist Ian OíConnor had unprecedented access to Telfair, his family, and those who surrounded him for the whole of the playerís senior year in high school. OíConnor spins a taut, fast-paced, stranger-than-fiction yet ultimately disheartening tale of the fruition of an uncanny talent. The denouement works in Telfairís favor as he becomes the draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA. The book is disheartening in that it chronicles the greed and self-interest of the various people who populate the book. It is fair to say that in OíConnorís telling of Telfairís tale, no one comes out in a positive light.
Telfair lives with his parents and seven other family members in a cramped apartment in one of Coney Islandís projects. His cousin is Stephon Marbury, the point guard for the New York Knicks. Telfairís family had hoped that Marbury would help them financially once he struck it rich in the NBA and help them get out of the drug-infested neighborhood that they lived in. When that did not happen, the family put their total faith on young Sebastian. The boy bore the burden well and lived up to his familyís expectations. He was hoping to make the jump from high school to professional basketball, bypassing college. While this had been done in the past by players such as Kevin Garnett and LeBron James, Telfair had two things working against him. First, at five-foot-eleven, he was short by NBA standards. Second, he was the first point guard to attempt the jump to the professional league. Point guards control the ball and its distribution in the game, and as such have to exhibit a tremendous amount of poise and maturity to succeed. At eighteen, Telfair was likely to be not considered developed enough to handle the playmaking duties in the NBA. Knowing that he was the pharos, the beacon that his whole family counted on, Telfair willed himself to gain the attention of NBA scouts.
Surrounding Sebastian Telfair is a veritable cast of characters with questionable motives. There is his father who, post-Vietnam, nurses a volatile temper that gets him in trouble with the law. Sebastianís brother, Sylvester, is in and out of jail. His coach, Tiny Morton, jumps on the Telfair bandwagon and milks it for all it is worth. The sneaker companies exhibit enormous greed in their overzealous pursuit of Telfair. And it goes on and on.
It is not OíConnorís fault that the people in the book are not Boy Scouts. He meticulously crafts the narrative by detailing Telfairís exploits in the city league and his Darwinian contests with other highly regarded school players around the country, where reputations are made and destroyed in one ball possession or in one play. The account of the battles between Telfair and Darius Washington, the Florida schoolboy wunderkind, are vivid in their detail and riveting in their impact. When Telfair gets drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, it is more a sense of relief to the player and those who surrounded him than the joyful culmination of years of hard work.
OíConnor clearly gets the zeitgeist of the black urban schoolboy player. His portrayal is honest and searching, even if what he unea,rths is not particularly wholesome. But then, it is hard to pass judgment on Sebastian Telfair who has known nothing but despair and poverty and, possessed of an otherworldly talent, leverages it to financial prosperity.