Living through the Hoop: High School Basketball, Race, and the American Dream

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Overview

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When high school basketball player LeBron James was selected as the top pick in the National Basketball Association draft of 2003, the hopes of a half-million high school basketball players soared. If LeBron could go straight from high school to the NBA, why couldn’t they? Such is the allure of basketball for so many young African American men. Unfortunately, the reality is that their chances of ever playing basketball at the professional, or even college, level are infinitesimal. In Living Through the Hoop, Reuben A. Buford May tells the absorbing story of the hopes and struggles of one high school basketball team.

With a clear passion for the game, May grabs readers with both hands and pulls them onto the hardwood, going under the hoop and inside the locker room. May spent seven seasons as an assistant coach of the Northeast High School Knights in Northeast, Georgia. We meet players like Larique and Pooty Cat, hard-working and energetic young men, willing to play and practice basketball seven days a week and banking on the unlimited promise of the game. And we meet Coach Benson, their unorthodox, out-spoken, and fierce leader, who regularly coached them to winning seasons, twice going to the state tournaments Elite Eight championships.

Beyond the wins and losses, May provides a portrait of the players’ hopes and aspirations, their home lives, and the difficulties they face in living in a poor and urban area — namely, the temptations of drugs and alcohol, violence in their communities, run-ins with the police, and unstable family lives. We learn what it means to become a man when you live in places that define manhood by how tough you can be, how many women you can have, and how much money you can hustle.

May shows the powerful role that the basketball team can play in keeping these kids straight, away from street-life, focused on completing high school, and possibly even attending college. Their stories, and the double-edged sword of hoop dreams, is at the heart of this compelling story about young African American men’s struggle to find their way in an often grim world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In his study of the soaring myths and ugly realities surrounding the world of high school basketball, May (Talking at Trena's) does the math: of the 530,000-odd high school basketball players this nation fielded in 2001, a mere 405 ever played professionally. This works out to a "measly" .001 probability-a fact that doesn't keep the kids he helps coach in a mostly black, poverty-stricken Georgia neighborhood from dreaming of the big time. More sociology paper than general interest book, May's work has the kind of on-the-ground raw material that most chroniclers of charged subjects (race, poverty, crime and social advancement) would dream of, yet he seems strangely unable to make much of it. After dividing his book into chapters on race, masculinity, sportsmanship and the like, May marches dutifully through each of them, reporting his findings with the utmost of care, never overstating something he doesn't have hard data for. Given literally a front-row seat to the arena where several of society's most potent stereotypes are played out, May retreats from the fray with his stiff, term-paper prose and cautious mien. However, May's commitment to these boys is clear, as he becomes convinced that even though their fantasies of living the American dream are for the most part a "dirty trick," it still remains about the best thing going in their sadly limited lives. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher

“May’s commitment to these boys is clear, as he becomes convinced that even though their fantasies of living the American dream are for the most part a dirty trick, it still remains about the best thing going in their sadly limited lives.”
-Publishers Weekly

,

“Much of what’s recounted here will surprise few; what leaps out is Living [through the Hoop]’s stark, confessional observations, its lengthy ruminations and the apparent lack of a fairy-tale postscript.”
-Detroit Metro Times

,

“A powerful and sober analysis of the lives of poor young people and coaches who sustain themselves with meaningful relationships and impossible dreams. May is an outstanding participant observer and interviewer who takes his reader into a social world, unpacks its meaning, and shows off the power of a vivid sociological imagination.”
-Mitchell Duneier,author of Sidewalk and Slim’s Table

“;Moving and memorable, Living Through the Hoop offers an unflinching account of black male ballplayers’ lives. Immersing himself in the lives of players on a high school basketball team, leading ethnographer May eloquently describes the impact of their hoop dreams. May's profound analysis shows basketball playing can often lead to success in not so flamboyant ways, as young men learn to avoid lures of mean streets, develop teamwork and fairness values, and counter omnipresent barriers of a racist society.”
-Joe R. Feagin,author of Systemic Racism

“May’s description of the experiences of these boys is readable and poignant; he describes the impact of drugs, alcohol, and violence on his players and also explores issues of masculinity and sportsmanship.”
-Choice

,

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814795965
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 266
  • Sales rank: 1,145,038
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Reuben A. Buford May is Professor of Sociology at Texas A & M University. He is the author of Talking at Trena’s: Everyday Conversations at an African American Tavern (NYU Press, 2001).

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     ix
Preface     xiii
Introduction     1
A Look Through the Hoop     8
For the Good of All     30
The Three D's: Drugs, Drinking, and Delinquency     50
Race and Hoops Everyday     79
Knight-Style Masculinity     101
Sportsmanship and the Need to Win     129
The Dirty Trick     151
Epilogue: The Death of Calvin Cody     175
Methodological Appendix     195
Notes     203
Bibliography     227
Index     237
About the Author     243
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