RUBY AND SPEAR by Todd Walton


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Walton revisits the scene of his greatest success (Inside Moves, 1978) in a sentimental if engaging urban fable of inner-city basketball. Victor Worsley, a shrimpy white guy of 40-odd years, is sacked from his job as lead sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for trashing the coach of the Warriors, the local NBA franchise. Before Vic's fired, however, Ruby Carmichael importunes him to scout her foster son, Spear Rashan Benedentes, a legendary figure on the Oakland playgrounds. At loose ends, Vic grudgingly obliges Ruby and ventures across the Bay into the heart of darkness with Greta Eagleheart (the flaky editorial assistant who has long loved him) to check out the 7'3"" phenom. What he finds is an outsized black Adonis with athletic talent to burn. Although a former substance abuser and equal-opportunity womanizer, Spear has developed character as well (thanks to the benign influence of a local Buddhist guru). When Vic talks about a tryout with the pros, Spear tests his sincerity with an invitation to participate in the rigidly structured pickup matches played in a neighborhood park. With Greta (part Native American) and Ruby (an ageless matriarch who communes with spirits) bonding in the background, the wary newsman joins the charismatic Spear and his mistrustful squad of wannabes (Juanishi, Pogo, et al.) on the court. In proving himself (with a deadly outside shot and tenacious defense) against top-flight rivals, Vic rediscovers--as the relentlessly noble Spear intended--his pure love of the game, one-on-one competition, and teamwork. He's thus free to arrange a scrimmage against the Warriors, which not only provides an exciting finale but earns Spear a shot at megabuck glory in the NBA. If he occasionally loses control of the ball in this effort to achieve New Age panache, Walton still scores in double figures with his fictive take on the city game's gritty realities.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Bantam