Hoops by Walter Dean Myers is a book about basketball; it is a book about life. Hoops is about the problematic life of a seventeen-year-old young man named Lonnie Jackson who is contemplating the next steps in his life. Lonnie lives in Harlem where life is hard and the streets are mean. He witnesses gang activities, robberies, and stabbings. In order to survive, and have hope for the future, Lonnie turns to basketball. He rarely lives at home with his mother since he has a job working at a local motel. In payment for his work, he receives a place to sleep. In spite of his tough life when he steps on the basketball court, he excels. He and his buddies play basketball on a court that they consider their own. On their way to the court, they encounter a weary alcoholic named Cal who they write off but Cal issues Lonnie a challenge. Cal says that if he can beat Lonnie in a one on one basketball game, he will be the coach of the boy’s team. Lonnie is sure that he can beat Cal but is surprised by Cal’s on court skills as he beats Lonnie. Cal takes over the team and they make it to the finals of the city’s basketball tournament. Lonnie gets wind of Cal’s involvement with a gang boss who wants him to throw the game, to lose on purpose. However, toward the end of the game, Cal puts Lonnie in the game, which results in a win. Cal pays the ultimate price for doing this when he is stabbed to death in the team locker room.
Major themes in the book include scandal and excessive competition in sports. The book also discusses the typical "coming of age" theme as well as common problems existent in single-parent households and how the lack of a father figure can negatively impact young men.