February 6, 2016 -- by Jim Neff


The Neff Zone

Cadillac News



I was at the basketball game in the Cadillac High School gym the night Dirk Dunbar scored 65 points. My dad, an avid high school basketball fan, had come up from Flint to see for himself if this kid from Cadillac was everything I said he was.


As memory serves, I recall that the opponent played a 2-3 zone and Dunbar just stopped at the top of the key and drained jumper after jumper. At the half he had 42 points, and (mind you) this was before there was a three-point line. My dad and I were sure there would be an adjustment made at halftime to at least bother Dunbar a bit. Nope. Same song, second verse. He finished with 65, but it could have been 100 if Coach Don Johnson had not shown some mercy for the other team and benched him for most of the fourth quarter.


There is no doubt that Dirk Dunbar was the greatest basketball player in the history of Cadillac High. He was All-State and All-American twice and led the nation in scoring his senior year (38.5 average). Later, as a star at Central Michigan, an NBA career seemed like a sure lock, until a catastrophic knee injury led to a “course correction.”


In a new book, “Confessions of a Basketball Junkie,” Dunbar takes us along on a journey of discovery. As he notes in the book regarding that injury: “The injury hit with a force that made me confront my shadow, to face impulses suppressed by the culturally conditioned drives that fashioned my values, convictions and personality.”


As I dove into “Confessions,” I soon realized that you don't “read” Dirk Dunbar but rather you “absorb” Dirk Dunbar. This is a book that causes you to pause along the way to examine ideas and philosophies and think thoughts you may not have considered before. The press release about the book states: “Filled with poetry and athletic anecdotes, mystical and humorous experiences, and truth-seeking explorations into our local and planetary purpose, this extraordinary memoir affirms the grandeur of being at home in the universe. All this while recapping a phenomenal, yet injury filled basketball career that is captivating, painful, and inspiring.” In basketball terms, much like Dunbar's game, shots are coming at you from all angles.


One facet of “Confessions” is pure basketball. A self-described “jump shot for hire,” Dunbar's professional career took him to Iceland and Germany as a player and coach. Despite multiple knee surgeries (he was in full leg casts twenty times), he became legendary in those countries. He even has a Trivial Pursuit card devoted to him in Iceland: “On which team did Dirk Dunbar play.” Basketball junkies will enjoy tales of these exploits.


Another layer of the book deals with family and friends. Indeed, the final line of the book proclaims: “We are our relationships.” Cadillac locals will enjoy reading about the Dunbar family (Leo, Betty, Gary, Patti, Dave, Shawn), the Reverend Bill Allinder, Coach Don Johnson, and many of Dirk's high school classmates. And the story of Dunbar meeting and marrying (his wife) Ulli is delightful.


The bedrock of “Confessions,” however, is the the evolution of Dunbar as a scholar and the discussions of a variety of philosophies. Early in the book he quotes one of his academic heroes, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”


Dunbar masterfully weaves in ideas from a host of sources, illustrating the path he traveled to become what he is today. Thoughts from Jesus, Buddha, Einstein, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and many other scholars and philosophers are examined. Traditions of Daoism and other aspects of Eastern religions are explored.


This pursuit may be best explained by a quote Dunbar cites from Ram Dass, American spiritual teacher, to begin Chapter 6: “We are all on the road of consciousness development and the only way we can help each other is to compare the territory we've mapped out.”


Just like his tenacious effort to succeed on a basketball court, his persistent quest as a scholar, and how he blends a variety of concepts into a personal philosophy, is fascinating to observe. For example, meditation and prayer: “...even when I did, it was more like meditation. Every prayer I remember was one of thankfulness...I believe we can impact our collective unconsciousness by sending out positive thoughts; but in prayer, it only makes sense to be thankful.”


“Confessions of a Basketball Junkie” is an enriching experience for all readers, basketball fans and non-fans alike. For local Cadillac fans, it's a must-read.


More information about “Confessions” is at: http://outskirtspress.com/bookstore/details/9781478755067


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at www.CadillacNews.com and www.NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.