ELEVATING THE GAME: Black Men and Basketball by Nelson George

ELEVATING THE GAME: Black Men and Basketball

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The role played by blacks in basketball has evolved, according to this resolute and profoundly perceptive history, from blacks' depiction ""as clowns, role models, and threats to its survival [to], ultimately, the game's very soul."" George (The Death of Rhythm and Blues, 1988; Where Did Our Love Go?, 1985) traces the history of African-Americans in the sport from 1916, with the founding of the first black intercollegiate conference, through the renowned Harlem Rens of the 1920's and on to the schoolyards and projects of the inner cities and the modern era of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Over the years, George argues, the game sometimes ""buttressed the battle for educational access."" School desegregation in Indiana and elsewhere in the late 1950's arose, he points out, at least in part as an attempt to break up basketball powerhouses like the all-black Crispus Attucks High School, which starred the great Oscar Robertson. The dichotomous situation for blacks is most evident, the author notes, in the origin and history of the Harlem Globetrotters. Based in Chicago, that team was founded by promoter Abc Saperstein, and playing for the Trotters from the 20's to the early 60's was the pinnacle for black cagers--but given ""the way the comedy was used to reinforce prejudice, the Trotters were a definitive example of white paternalism and Black male submission."" By examining the careers of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Connie Hawkins, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and others, George develops what he calls the ""Black athletic aesthetic,"" embodied in the in-your-face ""intimidation through improvisation"" style of play. Drawing frequently on music--particularly jazz and blues--as metaphor, he remembers Earl ""The Pearl"" Monroe as a stylist who ""employed tempo changes only Thelonius Monk would understand."" A sharp, bold, on-the-money appraisal of an underexamined phenomenon.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: HarperCollins