Seven Stories Press, 2008, $17.95
In some wiser future time, scholars may ponder just what in the world was the matter with 20th-century humans. Why all the resistance to simple little things like universal enfranchisement and peace? Why all the blaming and shaming and violence? Why were people so intent on shooting themselves repeatedly in the collective foot?
Conceivably, this study might lead one to contemplate the very nature of competition, of masculinity as it is popularly conceived, and of that ultimate distilled blend of the two: war. The experience of war changes everything, in ways that writers have been attempting to articulate for thousands of years.
The protagonist of Charley Rosen’s No Blood, No Foul, Jason Lewis, has had his life changed physically and directly: A talented basketball player, he comes home from World War II minus two fingers—and minus the dream of Olympic competition that had fired his fantasies and efforts. His best friend, Sol, though physically unscathed, is damaged in deeper and uglier ways.
The book vividly evokes an earlier era of sport, chronicling the earliest days of the NBA through the eyes of Lewis, now a reluctant referee, who clings to the game he loves in the face of all opposition. His intellectual father envisions a future college professor, his boorish in-laws a prosperous insurance salesman, and his bride yearns only for “respectability.” Amidst all this, Jason Lewis yearns for purity and grace, remembered from the basketball court.
Purity and grace, it would seem, were in short supply in postwar athletics. It’s a bumpy ride we take with Jason, redolent of cigar smoke and sweat and satisfying, as he finds the inner purity and grace to become his own man. Rosen, chief NBA columnist for Foxsports.com, knows his tale and writes it well. Sports lovers will enjoy both this novel and its nonfiction companion piece, Rosen’s recently published The First Tip-Off: The Incredible Story of the Birth of the NBA (McGraw Hill).