Black Kids and Basketball
As the columnist George Will said of the literature of the airplane, the most striking thing about the literature of basketball is that there is so little of it. An overwhelmingly black sport at all levels, basketball is—in the words of the late Pete Axthelm—“the city game.” A nation that has agonized so passionately over racial issues and urban problems might be expected to consider the pastime of young black men in American cities in greater depth, and finally, it seems such an examination has begun.
This winter, two works, Hoop Dreams, a documentary movie produced by Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert, and The Last Shot, a book by Darcy Frey,1 have penetrated the culture of urban basketball. While the movie is far more nuanced than the book, both portray basketball not as a pastime but as a pernicious system, one that encourages impoverished and impressionable young players to cede their lives to the impossible dream of a career in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The beneficiaries of this arrangement are predominantly (but not exclusively) white coaches, agents, and corporate executives. These adults transform the dreams that every playground player harbors into his “last shot.”
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