Books by John Valenti

Released: Dec. 22, 1990

A close accounting of the decline and—with his near-fatal, May 1989 drug-related shooting—perhaps permanent fail of Lloyd "Swee'pea" Daniels, a basketball phenomenon who's been called "Magic Johnson with a jumpshot." In telling the 22-year-old's story, sportswriter Valenti (Newsday), with the aid of Naclerio, the young man's former coach and mentor, illuminates some of the root causes—including drugs, violence, and benign neglect—that contributed to the self-destruction of a world-class talent. Growing up orphaned in Brooklyn's East New York and Brownsville sections, involved with drugs since age 10, Daniels's "mystical grasp of the game" was all that mattered to his teachers, coaches, family, and himself. Though a few tried to help him in school, most looked the other way as he skipped classes, failed tests, but then was passed on to the next grade. At 16, Daniels was in the eighth grade, reading on a third-grade level. He could "do everything with a basketball except one thing: Autograph it." He attended four different high schools in three states—mostly arranged so that he could play basketball—until he dropped out his junior year. Recruited and signed by the Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas (he couldn't read his acceptance letter), Daniels was involved in a drug bust and expelled before ever playing a game. On the comeback trail following the shooting in front of his grandmother's home (he was shot three times in the chest and shoulder over an $8 vial of crack), Daniels enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program and later played briefly with Quad City in the Continental Basketball Association before being cut. To further amplify Daniels's story, Valenti looks at other "playground legends" as well, such as James "Fly" Williams, Joe Hammond, and Pee Wee Kirkland, providing insight into why they all wound up in prison and, like Swee'Pea, "never made it to the big time. . .despite their vast abilities." A perceptive, gloves-off look at an inner-city tragedy. Read full book review >