Michael and the Whiz Kids: A Story of Basketball, Race, and Suburbia in the 1960s

Michael and the Whiz Kids: A Story of Basketball, Race, and Suburbia in the 1960s

by John Christgau


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Michael and the Whiz Kids: A Story of Basketball, Race, and Suburbia in the 1960s by John Christgau

Imagine a boy, five feet tall and one hundred pounds, who wants to play high school basketball. Now imagine that he was blind until the age of six and that he’s the first black student to attend his suburban school. And there you have Michael Thompson in 1965 in San Bruno, California. He played at the school where a young English teacher was coaching “lightweight basketball,” a competition for smaller players that has since disappeared. The team that Coach John Christgau put together came to be called the Whiz Kids for the way they rocketed up and down the court, led by Michael and invariably winning.

Michael and the Whiz Kids tells the story of the team’s 1968 championship season. It is a tale of cliffhanger games and players as outsized in character as they are short in stature, from the wild-haired, bespectacled “Professor” to the well-traveled Latvian dubbed “Suitcase” to the quiet and tenacious “Salt,” as in “of the earth.” But it is also a tale of the time—of counterculture, suburbia, integration, and racial brawls erupting on the court. In Christgau’s deft telling, it is an absorbing, often comic story of coming of age, for coach and Whiz Kids alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803245891
Publisher: UNP - Bison Books
Publication date: 11/01/2013
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

John Christgau (1934–2018) is the author of numerous books, including Origins of the Jump Shot: Eight Men Who Shook the World of Basketball and Tricksters in the Madhouse: Lakers vs. Globetrotters, 1948, both available in Bison Books editions.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1 The Whiz Kids 1

2 Michael 10

3 Coach 20

4 Suitcase and the Professor 33

5 Jack Armstrong and Salt 42

6 Zinji 52

7 Rene and Firp 64

8 Bob and Red 77

9 Noah 85

10 Darnell 95

11 Uncle Tom 106

12 Nerb 120

13 Rick 128

14 The Gipper 137

15 Jimmy the Greek and Artichoke Joe 149

Sources 163

What People are Saying About This

Seymour Smith

“An absolutely great read, not just for basketball fans. John Christgau puts us back in the 1960s. We are there when the ‘Whiz Kids’ and the sharpshooting Michael win the championship as basketball and the world are changing.”—Seymour Smith, retired sportswriter of the Baltimore Sun

John Horgan

“John Christgau, a master of capturing in detail a certain time and place, has done it again. His vivid recounting of a memorable high school basketball season in a suburb of San Francisco during the tumultuous late-1960s is riveting and ranks among his very finest works.”—John Horgan, columnist, San Mateo County Times

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