Hoop Roots : Basketball, Race, and Love

Wideman, John Edgar

Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001
ISBN 10: 0395857317 / ISBN 13: 9780395857311
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Synopsis: Hoop Roots is John Edgar Wideman’s memoir of discovering the game that has been his singular passion for nearly fifty years. It is equally, inevitably, the story of the roots of black basketball in America a story inextricable from race, culture, love, and home.
As a boy, Wideman lived in his grandparents’ worn but welcoming home in the ghettoized Homewood section of Pittsburgh. It was a world presided over by women, forever coddling, scolding, protective. One day John slipped away from their watchful gaze and escaped to a place where white factory workers shot hoops on their breaks. Then someone handed him a ball. That thrilling first shot was a turning point. Later he sneaked from his dying grandmother’s bedside to the courts where other black boys gathered. Here he really learned the game the African-American game, whose style and power would change him and our culture.
With Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk as his model, Wideman combines memoir with history, folklore, and commentary to create a magical evocation of his unique slice of American experience. He imagines the Harlem Globetrotters in 1927, on their way to the Illinois town where the only black resident will be lynched. A playground game in Greenwich Village conjures Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and the sources of black minstrelsy. African-American language, culture, music, and sport brilliantly interweave in a lyrical narrative that glides from nostalgic to outraged, from scholarly to streetwise, from defiant to celebratory.
Like his previous memoirs, Wideman’s Hoop Roots is both deeply personal and fiercely resonant.

Review: Basketball is only the starting point for novelist John Edgar Wideman's meditations in this genre-defying book, which announces its difference in the opening paragraph. Some other author might have written the sentence, "Playing the game provided sanctuary, refuge from a hostile world." Only Wideman would follow it with, "Only trouble was, to reach the court we had left our women behind," and only Wideman would close a book about playground basketball with a letter to his grandmother. In between, he contrasts the sport with the craft of writing; mingles memories of learning to play with recollections of growing up in Pittsburgh; invokes the lover he found after his 30-year marriage broke up ("Turning this into a basketball game, aren't you, Mr. Hoopster?" she says at one point during their affair); talks about minstrel shows and African American music; and pits the purity and democracy of schoolyard ball against the professional sport, in which "a chosen few, players certified to be the very best, perform for pay as entertainers." You'll need to read it all to appreciate the way Wideman masterfully weaves together these diverse strands; suffice it to say that the importance of basketball to black men in a racist society, though a crucial subject here, is too straightforward to be the entire topic. "The deepest, simplest subject of this hoop book is pleasure," he writes, and he conveys that sensation to his readers on several different levels: the excitement of a superb description (men playing on a Greenwich Village court); the satisfaction of shrewd cultural analysis (why poor kids wear expensive clothes to play); the power of metaphor (the searing chapter titled "Who Invented the Jump Shot (A Fable)"); and most of all the thrill of watching an artist at the top of his game. --Wendy Smith

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Title: Hoop Roots : Basketball, Race, and Love
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: New

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