In his debut, journalist Merlino traces the lives of his integrated junior-high basketball team and what happened to the players when the games stopped.
In 1986, Coach Willie McClain brought his basketball players, all black, from Seattle’s inner city to the affluent suburbs to form a team with a group of white players. For a single season, these young boys—who couldn’t have been more different—shared an initially wary then ebullient camaraderie that transcended race and class. But what happened after the season, asks the author, as these players made the transition from boys to men? Merlino returned to Seattle to find his old teammates and tell their stories. In one way or another, the white players all made their way; for the black players, however, the story was mixed. Through connections developed as a result of the team, all had the chance to attend quality private schools. Some adjusted, some didn’t. At 19, Tyrell was murdered; 20 years on, JT still hustled on the street; Myran was in prison. All were lured by the seemingly easy money of drug dealing as crack devastated their Seattle neighborhood in the late ’80s. Yet there were successes. Damian became a teacher and a preacher, Eric an auditor for the city with a solid middle-class life. None of the black players, however, lived without struggles in a class and racially divided Seattle. Merlino skillfully weaves the personal biographies with the biography of a city that relegated blacks to neighborhoods that were segregated and poor, to the margins of economic life, to public schools that were overcrowded and underfunded. He tells the story of the dispersal of Central Seattle’s black population, as Microsoft and Starbucks made it ripe for gentrification. But the heart of Merlino’s story is his teammates, black and white. He misses their youth and promise and loves and respects them all.
The book’s precise focus enables troubling considerations of the role of race and class in America.