🎥🍣 Movie Sushi — The Basketball Diaries

AdGridley
6 min readMay 22, 2021

At high school, Father McNulty’s beating Jim with a paddle in front of the class. Afterwards, Jim and friends cut class, hitching a ride hanging off the back of a bus. On the New York ferry, they get high by inhaling cleaning fluid vapours from a cloth. Pedro throws up over the side, hitting someone below. They run off as he chases.

Basketball coach, Swifty, asks if Jim’s serious about playing college ball. He wants them to go over potential schools together. When he suggests they should get pizza and make a night of it, Jim demurs. Currently, Jim’s on the hottest Catholic High School team in New York City.

Pedro breaks lockers open and removes cash, watches and rings — wearing several watches at once right the way up his forearm. After Jim’s team wins, Swifty goes to settle the bill at a burger bar, but doesn’t have the cash to pay. Swifty’s angry at the team over-ordering and snatches back any uneaten food, denying them a lift home. Then, the robbed opposition appears at the window and a fight breaks out. When Mickey spots more people coming, they all run off.

The gang present what they’ve stolen. Hooker, Diane, wants to perform a sex act for $15. They each turn her down — calling her a junkie and tipping food on her head.

Jim visits best friend, Bobby, in hospital. The chemotherapy for his leukaemia means he’s totally hairless. Jim gives him a basketball that the team signed. Jim shows Bobby photos of a woman doing a sex act with a donkey. Jim proudly says he beat Bobby’s record — having jerked off seven times in a row.

Jim decides to emancipate his dying friend. Jim wheels him along familiar streets, reminiscing. When the stripper in a live peepshow sees Bobby in a wheelchair, she stops dancing and Bobby gets frustrated, then blames Jim.

Jim knows gang initiations. In Jersey, they play “Chicken”. Two cars head towards each other at eighty miles an hour — the first to swerve out the way is the Chicken. In Brooklyn, they make you press a lit cigarette against your arm right down to the filter without the slightest flinch. In Manhattan, Jim and his friends jump off cliffs into the Harlem river — where the waters are full of the daily sewage from 500,000 toilets.

Neutron takes Jim to a fancy, Manhattan building. He introduces beautiful blonde twins Winky and Blinky. Soon, Blinky’s offering Jim cocaine so he can have sex like Superman. When she’s asleep, Jim’s still doing coke and is now writing poetry. He goes to the bathroom cabinet, eagerly consuming anything exciting. He has hallucinations involving church and Bobby’s death.

The first time Jim ever did heroin was in Pedro’s basement. Someone there said if you’re gonna sniff it, you might as well pop it, and if you’re gonna pop it, you might as well mainline. Even though he was scared of needles, Jim soon gave in.

The high was like a long heatwave through his body. Any ache or pain or sadness or guilty feeling was completely flushed out. Jim’s on his mom’s bathroom floor. He’s twitchy and manic. The more she shows caring, the angrier he becomes. He tugs at her heartstrings, mocks her, then throws up into the toilet.

With heroin addiction: first, it’s a Saturday night thing — you feel like a rock star. It’s called a chippy, a small habit. Then, you start doing it on Tuesdays, then Thursdays also. Then, it’s got you — no matter who you are.

Swifty catches Jim in the school shower room getting high. Swifty misreads imagined advances, even offering cash and reaching for Jim’s crotch. Jim bloodies the coach’s face against the wall, snatching the cash anyway.

Pedro has some pills, but he’s unsure if they’re uppers or downers. During the game, it’s clear they were downers. Mickey and Jim are uncoordinated and sloppy, often losing their balance completely. Jim’s free throw shot is feeble — then he collapses. Father McNulty suspends Jim and Mickey for a week and they’re also off the team.

There’s a showdown when Jim gets home. His Mom’s found his stash and tells him to leave. They have a screaming match and Jim promises to leave forever.

Jim, Pedro and Mickey steal cars. Pedro drives half-sedated. The car’s worth $1,500 — if it’s in good condition. Jim feeds Pedro cocaine to sniff while Mickey shoots up in the back. Pedro veers all over the road, fighting to stay conscious. Their connection finds all three junkies crammed into a phone booth. Then, the car they stole is towed. For wasting his time, their connection deliberately breaks Mickey’s arm.

They’re at HQ — home, on and off, to every down and out, junkie and wino from 14th Street to the Bowery. One junkie tells of a vision he had of a massive, six foot candle in church with a huge spoon over the top. The smell of the incense reminded him of the smell of primo dope cooking up. He then boils up some heroin over a candle, saying he loves the ritual. Diane is looking for customers in the HQ area. She finds Jim sitting zoned out. She has a pang of jealousy that he’s in this state, then moves on.

Pedro, Mickey and Jim break into a shop. Jim starts attacking the cash register. Sedated Pedro starts gathering scoops of different ice creams and Mickey finds a handgun. On their way out, Mickey loses patience with Pedro and hits him with the gun. Sirens approach, but Pedro can’t stand up. Mickey and Jim watch Pedro get arrested. In a bar, they notice Neutron being interviewed for his basketball on TV. In another life, it could have been them up there.

At HQ, somebody’s angry Jim’s passing on bad drugs. For $20, he throws Jim down two flights of stairs. Jim’s found passed out in the snow by Reggie. Jim wakes up covered in bruises at Reggie’s flat. Jim gets his coat and wants his stash — threatening to cut Reggie’s throat. Against Jim’s strongest wishes, Reggie flushes the drugs down the toilet. Reggie tucks in his shirt after their tussle, but Jim thinks Reggie wants oral sex. Reggie’s dumbfounded, then angry. Reggie forces Jim to look at his own reflection.

Reggie makes Jim go cold turkey. Jim tries begging, pleading and manipulating. All the while, Reggie sits awake guarding the door, sometimes wrestling and crying with him. After the worst of it, Reggie says he must leave.

Jim relapses and tosses the apartment. He finds some cash and leaves. He meets a presentable Diane on the street. Jim asks if she has drugs. She throws change on the floor. They yell at each other, then Jim gathers the cash from the floor.

Jim performs a sex act with a strange man, grimacing throughout. Swifty laughs in his face. Jim meets Mickey with $35. Now, they need drugs. Soon after the trade, they realise they’ve been stiffed. Mickey gets his gun and chases after the dealer. On a rooftop, Mickey threatens the man — who stumbles backwards, falling to his death.

Mickey’s unrepentant and leaves. On the street, the junkies and bums round on Mickey. Momentarily, he holds them at bay at gunpoint. They then catch up with him and start beating him. He’s arrested soon after.

Jim goes to his Mom’s place. With the chain across, he tries to squeeze his face and half his body through. He begs her for $20, interrupting his guilt-trip to spit on the floor. She says she can’t help him and he gets angry. She fights him off and double-locks the door. As he wails and moans that he’s in real trouble, she’s calling the police.

Jim is given six months on Rikers Island for assault, robbery, resisting arrest and possession of narcotics. He managed to stay clean the whole stretch — despite the fact it was easier to get drugs in the prison than anywhere else. He still writes in his diaries. He’s finished with doing sex acts in public bathrooms.

Jim’s ready outside a theatre. A terrible-looking Pedro calls to him from the shadows. Pedro’s forgiven Jim for the candy store arrest. Mickey’s facing 5–15 years for throwing the man off the roof. Pedro says he has a bag of the finest dope in Manhattan and that it’d be like old times. Jim declines.

Jim sits cross-legged onstage beneath a spotlight. He describes the different social classes of junkie he’s encountered. There are the rich dilettantes who can fly away if things get bad, the upper middle class Westchester preppies and the street junkies who started in their early teens. When he’s finished, he stands up and receives warm applause from the intimate crowd.

based on a true story

Starring Leonardo Di Caprio. Mark Wahlberg. Lorraine Bracco. Rated 18. Dir Scott Kalvert. Released in the UK 1995. Runtime 1hr 42mins

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AdGridley

Ad teaches & gives speeches on his MH struggle + recovery at institutions right across the world. (Movie Sushi pieces contain spoilers)