NBA All-Star Weekend is over.
Powered by the play of co-MVPs Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, who played on the same team for the first time since losing in the 2004 Finals to the Detroit Pistons, the West All-Stars overpowered their Eastern Conference opponents, 146-119.
Much of the pre- and post-game commentary focused on the two players’ reunion, on whether Dwight ‘Superman’ Howard would successfully defend his slam dunk title, or on which of the two teams would win.
But one fact received little, if any, notice: 23 of the 26 players selected for both teams are black.
Black players’ dominance of the NBA has been part of the landscape for so long that it rarely is deemed worthy of comment.
It wasn’t always that way.
Here are three books that talk about stories of integration, the emergence of black players and a pivotal game in NCAA history.
Getting Open: The Unknown story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball by Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody tells the story of Bill Garrett’s playing for the Indiana University Hoosiers after a stellar high school career at Shelbyville High School. Shelbyville native Graham was a boy when Garrett led the team to a state title over Clyde Lovellette’s Terre Haute team.
Getting Open describes Garrett’s admirable conduct on and off the court as well as the people at the university and in the Bloomington community who worked, in some cases reluctantly, to create his opportunity. Garrett later played for the Harlem Globetrotters and Boston Celtics before coaching a state title winner at Indianapolis’ Crispus Attucks High School, Oscar Robertson’s almamater. The book talks at length about the darker side of Indiana’s racial history-the Ku Klux Klan long had an active presence in the state-and includes an afterword that names eight of the state’s other black basketball pioneers .
Elevating The Game: Black Men and Basketball by Nelson George was published on the 100th anniversary of the game’s founding in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith. Explictly focusing on black male players in the work, the prolific and versatile George chronicles the different social eras and accompanying shift in the games. The lifetime New Yorker asserts that an aggressive, in-your-face persona has emerged on the court in part in response to America’s enduring racial inequality and oppression.
Elevating the Game has plenty of familiar faces-everyone from old timers like Russell and Chamberlain to Rucker Park legend Earl “The Goat” Manigault to contemporary icons Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson makes an appearance. But there are also plenty of unsung heroes like coaches Clarence ‘Big House’ Gaines, who coached college at Winston-Salem for decades, fast break advocate John McClendon, and many high school basketball teams whose players paved the way for the later stars. The book ends with a heartfelt plea for athletes to give back to the community lest they become divorced from it. The occasional factual error notwithstanding-Dikembe Mutombo is not Nigerian and Magic Johnson did miss more than a quarter of a season in his second year in the league-Elevating the Game is a thought provoking and engaging read.
Frank Fitzpatrick’s And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: the Basketball Game That Changed American Sports discusses the 1966 NCAA final between Don Haskins’ Texas Western Miners and Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats. Haskins made history by putting the first all-black starting five on the court and by being the all-white Rupp’s Runts, which included later Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley. This story has since been told in the film Glory Road, and Fitzpatrick does a creditable job of taking the reader through the story and into the lives and hearts of the players and their irascible coach.
I promise I will blog about something besides basketball tomorrow!