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Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany

Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany

by Andrew Maraniss
Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany

Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany

by Andrew Maraniss


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*"Rivaling the nonfiction works of Steve Sheinkin and Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat....Even readers who don't appreciate sports will find this story a page-turner." —School Library Connection, starred review

*"A must for all library collections." —Booklist, starred review

Winner of the 2020 AJL Sydney Taylor Honor!  

From the New York Times bestselling author of Strong Inside comes the remarkable true story of the birth of Olympic basketball at the 1936 Summer Games in Hitler's Germany. Perfect for fans of The Boys in the Boat and Unbroken.

On a scorching hot day in July 1936, thousands of people cheered as the U.S. Olympic teams boarded the S.S. Manhattan, bound for Berlin. Among the athletes were the 14 players representing the first-ever U.S. Olympic basketball team. As thousands of supporters waved American flags on the docks, it was easy to miss the one courageous man holding a BOYCOTT NAZI GERMANY sign. But it was too late for a boycott now; the ship had already left the harbor.

1936 was a turbulent time in world history. Adolf Hitler had gained power in Germany three years earlier. Jewish people and political opponents of the Nazis were the targets of vicious mistreatment, yet were unaware of the horrors that awaited them in the coming years. But the Olympians on board the S.S. Manhattan and other international visitors wouldn't see any signs of trouble in Berlin. Streets were swept, storefronts were painted, and every German citizen greeted them with a smile. Like a movie set, it was all just a facade, meant to distract from the terrible things happening behind the scenes.

This is the incredible true story of basketball, from its invention by James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891, to the sport's Olympic debut in Berlin and the eclectic mix of people, events and propaganda on both sides of the Atlantic that made it all possible. Includes photos throughout, a Who's-Who of the 1936 Olympics, bibliography, and index.

Praise for Games of Deception:

A 2020 ALA Notable Children's Book!
A 2020 CBC Notable Social Studies Book!

"Maraniss does a great job of blending basketball action with the horror of Hitler's Berlin to bring this fascinating, frightening, you-can't-make-this-stuff-up moment in history to life." -Steve Sheinkin, New York Times bestselling author of Bomb and Undefeated

"I was blown away by Games of Deception....It's a fascinating, fast-paced, well-reasoned, and well-written account of the hidden-in-plain-sight horrors and atrocities that underpinned sports, politics, and propaganda in the United States and Germany. This is an important read." -Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Newbery Honor winning author of Hitler Youth

"A richly reported and stylishly told reminder how, when you scratch at a sports story, the real world often lurks just beneath." —Alexander Wolff, New York Times bestselling author of The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama

"An insightful, gripping account of basketball and bias." —Kirkus Reviews

"An exciting and overlooked slice of history." —School Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525514657
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 100,881
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Andrew Maraniss studied history at Vanderbilt University and as a recipient of the Fred Russell-Grantland Rice sportswriting scholarship, earned the school's Alexander Award for excellence in journalism. He then worked for five years in Vanderbilt's athletic department as the associate director of media relations, dealing primarily with the men's basketball team. The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author David Maraniss and trailblazing environmentalist Linda Maraniss, Andrew was born in Madison, Wisconsin, grew up in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas and now lives in Brentwood, Tennessee, with his wife Alison, and their two young children. His first book for adults, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South, was a New York Times nonfiction bestseller.

Read an Excerpt

It was another scorching-hot day in New York, but that didn’t stop thousands of people from crowding the docks along the Hudson River.

The scene looked and sounded like the Fourth of July. Bands played patriotic tunes as men, women, and children on both sides of the Hudson cheered and waved small American flags. Even the SS Manhattan was dressed for the occasion, with its red hull, white superstructure, and red, white, and blue funnels. Planes circled overhead, and, out on the water, boats sounded their horns and shot streams of water high into the air in celebration.

As far away as Kansas and California, families gathered around their radios, listening to announcers describe the festivities. At twelve noon, more than four hundred American athletes, coaches, officials, family members, and journalists would set sail on a nine-day journey to Germany for the greatest spectacle in the world, the eleventh Olympic Games.

But first, there was much to behold at Pier 60.

An African American man gave out homemade good-luck charms to theathletes as they boarded the ship, but he didn’t even bother to hand one to thegreat black track star from Ohio State, Jesse Owens, telling onlookers that Owenswouldn’t need any luck in Berlin.

Up on deck, a group of female athletes—there were a record number of them on this U.S. Olympic team—gathered in two rows for a photo. One woman called out, “We’re going to bring home the bacon, aren’t we, girls?!” and her teammates let out a big cheer. And who was that sprinting up the gangplank onto the boat? It was Willard Schmidt, all six foot nine of him, a skinny Nebraska farm boy who was the last man added to the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He hurried on board so nobody could stop him. Just being on this ship and on this team felt like such an improbable dream he was afraid somebody would pinch him and it would all be over.

Next came Schmidt’s USA Basketball teammates, including five more players from the Globe Refiners, his amateur team in McPherson, Kansas; seven from the Universals of Los Angeles; and one college player from the University of Washington. The Olympic team had been assembled by merging the two best amateur teams in the country (along with the one college player) after a qualifying tournament in New York where the Universals came in first and the Refiners second. The men who followed Schmidt onto the ship included Frank “Frankenstein”Lubin, a hulking six-foot-seven center; assistant coach Gene Johnson, stylishly dressed and talkative as usual; and his soft-spoken brother, Francis, a star of the team. Along, too, came Sam Balter from LA, and his buddies, Art Mollner, Carl Shy, and Carl Knowles. Lumbering aboard came big “College Joe” Fortenberry, the gentle giant from Happy, Texas. Tex Gibbons boarded the ship with one arm in a sling, while center Ralph Bishop from Washington, the only college player on the team, chatted with nine fellow UW Huskies, young men who would compete in a highly anticipated rowing event in Berlin. Rounding out the group were headcoach Jimmy Needles, in desperate need of coffee (he drank twenty-five cups a day), along with Jack Ragland, Duane Swanson, Donald Piper, and Bill Wheatley.

The names of these men have been forgotten, but they were an important and historic group: 1936 marked basketball’s debut as an official Olympic sport, andthis was the first-ever United States Olympic basketball team. Decades later, theU.S. Olympic basketball team would be dubbed the Dream Team, and a new collectionof superstars would command the world’s attention at the Summer Olympics every four years. But for Oscar Robertson and Jerry West to win Olympic gold in1960, for Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird to win in 1992, or forKobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant to taste gold more recently, there had to be this bunch of no-names walking up the plank at Pier 60 in 1936.

As the SS Manhattan pushed back just past noon, fans tossed their caps into the air; some even threw them in the river. Bill Wheatley looked out at thousands of cheering New Yorkers and considered how far he’d come as a basketball player. He’d been cut from his college team. The coach told him he was no good. Now he was sailing to Europe to play the game he loved on the world’s largest stage.

The ship pushed farther away, and the scene at the pier began to thin out, people clutching their flags and heading back home and to work.

But pacing along the shore was a man who seemed out of place, different fromthe thousands who surrounded him. He walked silently, carrying a sign. It wasan odd sign; the letters weren’t all that neatly written. And its message was startling. BOYCOTT NAZI GERMANY, LAND OF DARKNESS. BOYCOTT HITLER. KEEP AMERICA FREE. FIGHT FOR RACE TOLERANCE, DEMOCRACY AND PEACE. I SPENT 10 MONTHS IN A NAZI JAIL FOR DEFENDING THESE PRINCIPLES.

Boycott? It was too late now. The SS Manhattan had left Pier 60 and was onits way toward the Statue of Liberty and the Atlantic Ocean.

The people listening at home had turned off their radios. In seventeen days, the Olympics would begin with elaborate opening ceremonies broadcast from Berlin. The solitary protest of the courageous man with the sign, Richard Roiderer, would be long forgotten by then.

But maybe people should have paid closer attention. The man who stood alone understood there was more to this Olympics than met the eye. In Adolf Hitler’s Berlin, all was not as it seemed.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 One Man Stood Alone 1

Chapter 2 A Sinister Façade 6

Chapter 3 Inventing a Game 16

Chapter 4 Do Good and Be Pure 20

Chapter 5 Man on a Mission 27

Chapter 6 The Boycott Question 36

Chapter 7 Meddling in the Olympics 47

Chapter 8 Mirror, Mirror 53

Chapter 9 Hollywood Stars 60

Chapter 10 Unrefined 72

Chapter 11 Big Time 78

Chapter 12 Choices 83

Chapter 13 On Their Own 94

Chapter 14 You Can't Beat Fun 102

Chapter 15 Welcome to Germany 109

Chapter 16 The Anvil and the Hammer 117

Chapter 17 The Grandest Show 127

Chapter 18 Village People 134

Chapter 19 Witnesses to History 145

Chapter 20 Neutral Zone 153

Chapter 21 110,000 Bored Germans 161

Chapter 22 Tournament Time 165

Chapter 23 Strangest Game Ever 177

Chapter 24 Center of the Universe 186

Chapter 25 Full Circle 199

Afterword: Putting the Pieces Together 202

All-Time Olympic Basketball Results 215

1936 Team USA Roster 216

1936 Berlin Olympics: Day-by-Day 217

Acknowledgments 218

Bibliography 222

Index 227

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