Wednesday, March 13, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Big O by Oscar Robertson, excerpt three)

from The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game by Oscar Robertson:

In the state finals, Milan defeated powerful Muncie Central when Plump hit a last-second jumper. You may have heard about the shot and the game; they became immortalized in the 1986 movie Hoosiers. Maybe you remember the film: the rusted car driving down country roads, the golden morning light and grain elevators, cornfields and barns with weathered paint and churches with large, white steeples. A coach heads toward the town of Hickory. At each bend in the road, there is a basketball hoop, and more hoops beside grain elevators, nailed to barns, at a crossroad. Coach Norman Dale instructs his players to always throw at least four passes before taking a shot, reinforces the timeless notions of discipline and patience and teamwork. Men gather on frosty nights to talk about what kind of defense the town should play. There are town meetings to decide on the future of the coach. Before the state championship game, the schoolboy hero looks at his teammates and says, “Let’s win one for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here.”

I ask you this: when the fictional version of Milan—a team named the Hickory Huskers—reaches the championship game in Hoosiers, what does it mean that the filmmakers twisted the truth? Instead of having Milan defeat Muncie Central and an integrated team with two black guys on it, which is what happened in real life, Hickory defeated a fictional team of black players, coached exclusively by black men, whose rooting section consists of black men, women, boys, and girls. Is the proverbial race card being played?

Bailey and Ray Crowe both had small parts in the film. You can see them sitting on the South Bend bench, coaching. Obviously, they disagree with me on this point. They’re entitled.

The night Bobby Plump’s shot gave Milan the real state title, a convoy of Cadillacs hauled the players around Indianapolis’s Monument Circle. The next day the caravan headed south, down back roads toward Milan. Thousands of people turned out along the way, waving flags. Children were perched in the boughs of sycamores. Women stood on porches, with freshly baked pies and peach cobbler for the conquering heroes.

At the Senate Avenue Y in Indianapolis, good-natured banter and laughter filled one end of the basketball court. The other end was empty except for a lone player, who was in his own world, dribbling, faking, shooting, lost in the sport’s subtle rhythms.

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