In the world of pick-up playground hoops, the call of "we've got next" is the universally accepted sign that your team will challenge the winner of a game in progress. Edwin Bancroft Henderson, a young, black, Harvard-educated physical education teacher probably would have called out those words when he strode into the gymnasium of Washington's all-white Central Young Men's Christian Association one night almost 97 years ago. But he never got the chance.
Before he could even lace up his shoes, he was shooed out of the gym by a white athletic director intent on ceasing the increasing number of blacks attempting to cross the color line. So Henderson decided to do something about it. He reserved a tiny basement armory at M Street High School and trained black students in the game's fundamentals. On the day after Christmas in 1907, Henderson helped tip off a near 50-year history of black basketball.
In "Hot Potato: How Washington and New York Gave Birth to Black Basketball and Changed America's Game Forever," author Bob Kuska spent 10 years writing the 185-page book, which chronicles much of that half-century of segregated hoops. From its Washington-based birth as an amateur sport to its evolution into a professional game based primarily in New York, Kuska wrote the story as a dedication to the careful planning of characters like Henderson, who felt the sport would offer black youth more opportunities.
Though monotonous at points, Kuska uses lively characters who sport names such as Fat Jenkins, Snake Sykes and Tarzan Cooper. And interspersed throughout the book are notable games between teams such as Manhattan's all-white Original Celtics and Harlem's all-black Big Renaissance Five or Washington's 12th Street YMCA and Brooklyn's Smart Set Grave Diggers.
-- Will Toussaint