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The myth of the natural black athlete is widespread, though it’s usually only talked about when a sports commentator or celebrity embarrasses himself by bringing it up in public. Those gaffes are swiftly decried as racist, but apart from their link to the long history of ugly racial stereotypes about black people—especially men—they are also harmful because they obscure very real, hard-fought accomplishments. As Black Men Can’t Shoot demonstrates, such successes on the basketball court don’t just happen because of natural gifts—instead, they grow out of the long, tough, and unpredictable process of becoming a known player.
Scott N. Brooks spent four years coaching summer league basketball in Philadelphia. And what he saw, heard, and felt working with the young black men on his team tells us much about how some kids are able to make the extraordinary journey from the ghetto to the NCAA. To show how good players make the transition to greatness, Brooks tells the story of two young men, Jermaine and Ray, following them through their high school years and chronicling their breakthroughs and frustrations on the court as well as their troubles at home. We witness them negotiating the pitfalls of forging a career and a path out of poverty, we see their triumphs and setbacks, and we hear from the network of people—their families, the neighborhood elders, and Coach Brooks himself—invested in their fates.
Black Men Can’t Shoot has all the hallmarks of a classic sports book, with a climactic championship game and a suspenseful ending as we wait to find out if Jermaine and Ray will be recruited. Brooks’s moving coming-of-age story counters the belief that basketball only exploits kids and lures them into following empty dreams—and shows us that by playing ball, some of these young black men have already begun their education even before they get to college.
— Jeff Fox
"A very entertaining, in depth look at the high school basketball scene in the Philadelphia area. . . . Basketball allows these kids to dream--it allows them to consider that they might have a future other than hanging out on the street corner. Consider it documentation of the transformative effects of hoops."
— Jeff Fox
Brooks (sociology, Univ. of California at Riverside), having studied under and been inspired by the highly esteemed Elijah Anderson at the University of Pennsylvania, provides an ethnographic description of recreational basketball in South Philadelphia. A self-professed frustrated former high school basketball player (he blames himself and his former coach for his shortcomings), the author looks at the hopes and dreams of young inner-city black men he coached who aspired to play ball professionally. In true sociological tradition, he presents detailed information on members of the famed Blade Rodgers Neighborhood Development League, based on interviews with these athletes, their families, coaches, and other locals. While focusing on two athletes in particular, Brooks educates readers about a number of "street" realities (e.g., the daily struggle for survival and basketball viewed as a way out of the ghetto). Demystifying certain racial stereotypes, Brooks explains that even God-given skills must be developed through hard work and dedication. His book is a worthy ethnographic text and is recommended especially for students of sports sociology.
Preface: What’s in a Title—the Origins of This Research
1 Jermaine and Ray
2 Becoming a Basketball Player
3 Getting Known through Networks and Exposure
4 Playing School Ball
5 Old Heads and Young Bulls
6 A Saturday Morning at Espy
7 The Heart of the Playground
8 Chuck Breaks Them Down
9 Gotta Want It “Like That”
10 Playing Uptown
11 Some Fall Off
12 Bringing 'Em Back and Putting It All Together
13 The Chip
14 The Glow but Reality of Success
15 Ray vs. Green
16 Playing Everywhere
17 Can’t Look Poor
19 Moving North
20 Learning Other Stuff
21 A Star Is Born; Another Is Still Waiting
22 Politics and “Pub(licity)”
23 Getting in (School) and Getting out (of the Hood)
24 Being Used
Appendix 1: Methodology
Appendix 2: Settings—Politics of Space
Appendix 3: Jermaine’s Path
Posted March 24, 2013