The Sidekick: Markovits explores the telling of a player’s last dance narrative

Often the American author’s narrator inadvertently becomes the story

The Sidekick
The Sidekick
Author: Benjamin Markovits
ISBN-13: 978-0-571-37152-5
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Guideline Price: £18.99

‘The bias is real, but I don’t know how much it matters. If Jordan gets to tell the story, that’s because he is the story.’ Benjamin Markovits said this of the The Last Dance (The TLS, July 10th, 2020), the documentary about the dominant Chicago Bulls basketball team of the 1990s. Really, people tuned in to hear the story of Michael Jordan, whose covert influence was said to have been all over the production. While the bias might not have mattered to Markovits then, often in Markovits’s novels, the person telling the story inadvertently becomes the story; for Brian Blum, the narrator of Markovits’s new novel, The Sidekick, it’s no different.

Marcus Hayes is making his comeback with the Austin SuperSonics (a kind of alternate universe where the Seattle NBA franchise moved to Austin and not Oklahoma). Former high-school friends, sportswriter Blum once had all access to Hayes until he wrote about a match-fixing scandal that implicated the Boston Celtics, the championship-winning team Hayes played for at the time. “For years, I was one of his guys, and then I wasn’t,” Blum tells us. After they reacquaint themselves at the funeral of their high-school coach which includes a typical Markovits scene of a spontaneous pick-up game of basketball (involving the pastor), Hayes asks Blum to write about his own last dance.

Markovits also interweaves the story of Blum’s childhood. We find out that when Hayes’s parents divorce and his mother moves away, Hayes, at the suggestion of their now-dead coach, “bunks” with Blum and his family. Despite Blum being unwelcoming to the idea, Blum’s father declares, “we can make a real difference to this kid’s life”. The episode becomes an implicit source for the, mostly, unresolved tensions between Blum, Hayes, and his father. Is Blum projecting resentment of his father, who ultimately seems to take more pride in Hayes’s exploits than his son’s, on to Hayes? Or is it a more bitter and twisted unconscious source of racial resentment? Or perhaps, in some words of Jordan’s that became a meme after The Last Dance, it’s just “personal”. We never entirely know, but we get a sense the bias is real.