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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'The Basketball Diaries': The Gritty Depiction of a Basketball Phenom's Turn Toward Self-Destruction

Movie poster for the 1995 film "The Basketball Diaries"

The Basketball Diaries (1995) is a gritty and often harrowing biographical drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio as American punk author/poet/musician Jim Carroll during his teenage years in New York City. High school-aged Carroll excels on the basketball court despite a growing taste for illicit drugs, all the while maintaining a private journal where he explores his growing interest in creative writing and poetry.

Carroll and close friends Mickey (Mark Wahlberg), Pedro (James Madio) and Neutron (Patrick McGaW) run wild on the streets of New York before becoming swayed by the allure of narcotics—Jim's mother (Lorraine Bracco) horrified by her only child's transgressions. As drugs shatter his athletic aspirations and leukemia takes the life of his beloved teammate Bobby (Michael Imperioli), Jim spirals into desperation and full-fledged heroin addiction. The storyline follows Jim, Mickey and Pedro as they scrape to get by as homeless junkies living lives of abject criminality—Jim's plight one of ever-increasing desperation.

Based on Carroll's 1978 memoir, a collection of his own diary entries between the ages of 12 and 16, The Basketball Diaries is a stark depiction of delinquency and rebellion. DiCaprio is the star of the show through-and-through, delivering a blistering performance as the young Carroll while carrying the film's narrative through increasingly punishing terrain. Viscerally affecting and darkly transfixing, it's an indelible depiction of loss, degradation and hard-fought self-actualization.


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