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Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball

Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball

by Onaje X. O. Woodbine


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J-Rod moves like a small tank on the court, his face mean, staring down his opponents. "I play just like my father," he says. "Before my father died, he was a problem on the court. I'm a problem." Playing basketball for him fuses past and present, conjuring his father's memory into a force that opponents can feel in each bone-snapping drive to the basket.

On the street, every ballplayer has a story. Onaje X. O. Woodbine, a former streetball player who became an all-star Ivy Leaguer, brings the sights and sounds, hopes and dreams of street basketball to life. He shows that big games have a trickster figure and a master of black talk whose commentary interprets the game for audiences. The beats of hip-hop and reggae make up the soundtrack, and the ballplayers are half-men, half-heroes, defying the ghetto's limitations with their flights to the basket.

Basketball is popular among young black American men but not because, as many claim, they are "pushed by poverty" or "pulled" by white institutions to play it. Black men choose to participate in basketball because of the transcendent experience of the game. Through interviews with and observations of urban basketball players, Onaje X. O. Woodbine composes a rare portrait of a passionate, committed, and resilient group of athletes who use the court to mine what urban life cannot corrupt. If people turn to religion to reimagine their place in the world, then black streetball players are indeed the hierophants of the asphalt.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231177290
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 08/28/2018
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Onaje X. O. Woodbine is assistant professor of philosophy and religion at American University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Preface xv

Introduction 1

Part I Memory

1 "Last Ones Left" in the Game: From Black Resistance to Urban Exile 25

2 Boston's Memorial Games 48

Part II Hope

3 Jason, Hoops, and Grandma's Hands 89

4 C.J., Hoops, and the Quest for a Second Life 106

Part III Healing

5 Ancestor Work in Street Basketball 131

6 The Dunk and the Signifying Monkey 152

Epilogue 169

Notes 175

Bibliography 189

Index 197

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