A picture-book account of a historic, secret basketball matchup in the Jim Crow South.
Amid widespread segregation and rampant racism in 1944 Durham, North Carolina, black players and white players came together to play ball. The legendary African-American coach John McLendon, who learned the game from its founder, James Naismith, is depicted in this true story as a man with foresight and the courage to step beyond the bounds of the color line for friendly competition. An undercover, illegitimate contest he helped to arrange between the Duke University Medical School and the North Carolina College of Negroes demonstrated that blacks and whites could play together some 22 years before Texas Western would win the national championship with an all-black starting five. DuBurke’s arresting illustrations play up the basketball action and the emerging camaraderie that conjured the possibility of defeating Jim Crow. In its focus on the so-called Secret Game, however, and its tailpiece that assures readers that “today, people don’t think twice about players of different skin colors competing with one another,” the story is a bit kumbayah. Yes, the NCAA and NBA are integrated, but the Donald Sterlings of the world show there is still work to be done.
Though necessarily brief and lacking in nuance, the story is nevertheless a charming read for young basketball fans. (author’s note, timeline, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 7-11)