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READ: The Wizard of Odds - Charley Rosen

Publisher: Seven Stories Press

Price: £11.17

This is the story of how Jack Molinas almost destroyed the game of basketball. 

More tellingly, it's a cautionary tale of how greed, corruption and above all the abuse of talent brought the world of crime into the court under the willing guidance of a great player turned bad.

Molinas, a legendary New York City playground baller, was rich, handsome and a genius in every respect. Educated in the Ivy League, he never left behind his roots on the wrong side of the tracks - one which revolved fatally around gambling and the honour of debts.

Former coach turned author Charley Rosen had access to Molinas' private diaries and archives, building up a near first hand account of how shaving a few points in high schools games spiralled into a scandal which nearly brought the entire sport to its knees.

Rosen sums it up best: "For Jack Molinas, the real game was power - taming the unknown, manipulating people, odds and possibilities, making the future dance to his own secret music. He just knew he was invulnerable, that he could always think or talk his way out of any predicament."

Blessed by talent, bedevilled by his addition to the thrill of the dollar and a blindness to his own fallibility, Molinas evaded detection in the scandals which were uncovered in 1951. 

However he was soon arrested and imprisoned for a line of charges ranging from fraud to racketeering.

Having kept up his dealing during his jail term with little impunity, Molinas' nerve never failed. It ultimately led to his final shot, one driven in by the Mob itself.

Rosen played against Molinas earlier in his own career and never forgot the memory. Now he recreates a life lived since in colourful and sometimes disturbing detail.

Not so much as basketball biography as a sequel to Goodfellas, you'll double take on almost every page. But it's thrilling stuff throughout.

Rating:  8/10

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