Tuesday, February 26, 2013

the last book I ever read (King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, excerpt four)

from King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution by Aram Goudsouzian:

As basketball evolved, it drifted from its original ideological underpinnings. “Games demanding team play are played by the Anglo-Saxon peoples, and by these peoples alone,” declared Luther Gulick, who ran the Springfield YMCA and trained James Naismith. But the new immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries embraced basketball. The original Celtics, the greatest professional teams of the 1920s, contained an ethnic hodgepodge led by the Jewish star Nat Holman. By the 1930s basketball was “the Jewish game.” The South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, known as the SPHAs, captured copious league and tournament championships. Basketball provided a vehicle of assimilation, contradicting stereotypes of Jews as weak intellectuals. Into the early 1950s, Jews still composed a significant percentage of professional basketball players.

African Americans played basketball, too, but the sport did not always occupy a central place in black culture. Basketball was rooted in patterns of city life, and when Naismith invented the sport, blacks were the least urban group in America. The Great Migration quite literally changed basketball’s complexion. Black urban areas became centers of sporting life. Elite clubs steeped in the ideals of Muscular Christianity, such as St. Christopher in New York and Loendi’s Big Five in Pittsburgh, staged games on Friday and Saturday nights, often followed by dances. Black youths could play in YMCAs, athletic clubs, and schools. Washington, DC, established the first black high school athletic association in 1906, and a national black high school tournament in 1929. Basketball teams at prestigious schools featured African Americans, including Paul Robeson at Princeton and Ralph Bunche at UCLA.

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