The publication of Jim Carroll’s diary, entitled The Basketball Diaries: Age Twelve to Fifteen (1978), had been eagerly awaited. The book, which is generally referred to by its main title alone, had started appearing in excerpt form throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s in various literary publications. Carroll claimed that the diaries were written at the time in which the events related took place. However, some critics wondered how much the diaries were edited before publication, especially since the book includes many outrageous incidents. Regardless of its authenticity, the book made a statement when it was published. Some people at that time were glorifying the image of life in the 1960s urban counterculture. Carroll’s gritty diary was explicit; it took readers inside the real world of drug addiction, male prostitution, and crime in 1960s New York.
The book also discussed what life was like for war babies—people who grew up under the constant fear of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War—and the difficulty in remaining neutral in the 1960s antiwar debate. The Basketball Diaries has become Carroll’s best-known work, especially after the release of a 1995 film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In 1987, Carroll published a sequel, Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries, 1971–73.
In the first entry of The Basketball Diaries, a thirteen-year-old Carroll uses a fake birth certificate from his coach, Lefty, to get into a twelve-andunder basketball league. Carroll and his friends sniff cleaning fluid to get high, steal purses, and steal from another basketball team. On Halloween, they attack the neighborhood girls with flour-filled socks then get drunk and use rock-filled socks to break windows. Lefty catches some of his players sniffing glue, but Carroll dumps his before getting caught. Carroll and his family move into their new apartment in the tip of Manhattan. Carroll and the gang get drunk, but one of them drinks too much and has to get his stomach pumped.
Carroll, a non-Catholic, is forced to go to confession at his new Catholic school. He attends a funeral for one of his friends who dies in a gluesniffing accident. Carroll scores high on a test but is punished for lack of effort. He describes his first experience with heroin, which he believes is nonaddictive. He steals clothes from a department store and smokes marijuana with one of the older guys in his new neighborhood. A priest in Carroll’s school spanks a student’s naked buttocks behind closed doors and is sent away after the student’s brother labels the priest a homosexual. Carroll’s mother finds and destroys a bag of Carroll’s marijuana.
Spring & Summer 1964
Carroll talks about the caves near his new apartment building, where he goes to smoke marijuana. He describes the rush he gets late at night while masturbating naked on the roof of his building. Carroll and his friends have a huge party in the woods, jump off a cliff into the Harlem River, and steal basketballs from the park house. Carroll loses his job as a seller at Yankee Stadium as a result of his drug use. Carroll and his friends steal liquor from their school that is intended for an American Legion party. He describes a sexual encounter with a girl at his friend’s house.
Carroll has trouble adjusting to the strict etiquette at the new private school that he is attending on a basketball scholarship, but he impresses his classmates with his confidence and athletic ability. During a routine trip with his gym class to Central Park, Carroll almost gets caught smoking marijuana. He notes the futility of the school’s symbolic Thanksgiving fast for hunger. He describes a sexual encounter with a communist girl.
Carroll accidentally exposes himself during a basketball game. He starts hanging around Headquarters, an apartment that hosts all of the local drug users. He drinks codeine cough syrup to get high. He describes his recurring fantasy about shooting a machine gun in class. He goes to a Communist Party meeting but is not impressed. He steals money from the wrestling team. Carroll and some of his team members take drugs that severely affect their game performance.
Carroll gets picked up by a person who turns out to be a male transvestite. He talks about a kleptomaniac friend, Bobby Blake, who gets high and breaks into a closed ice cream parlor. Carroll’s mother receives a notice from his principal about Carroll’s bad grades and behavior problem. Blake gets...