Ball Don’t Lie!

What is Ball Don’t Lie! about?

Ball Don’t Lie! Myth, Genealogy and Invention in the Cultures of Basketball (which you can preorder now, but will be published in early 2016 by Temple University Press as part of the “Sporting” series edited by Dr. Amy Bass) critiques existing popular myths concerning the history of basketball, contextualizes them in relation to historical accounts that encompass developments internal to and beyond the world of basketball, and presents an alternative history of the sport grounded in innovations in play on the court. It emphasizes the creative prerogative of players and the ways in which their innovations are shaped by, and shape, broader cultural and social phenomena, ultimately disrupting the myths that would feed off and confine them. Ball Don’t Lie! shows that basketball cannot be reduced to a single, fixed or timeless essence but instead is a continually evolving exhibition of physical culture that flexibly adapts to and sparks changes in American society.

How does Ball Don’t Lie! work?

From its beginnings in 1891 and over the course of basketball’s subsequent history, changes in society and in the sport have sparked sometimes contentious discussion over about the nature of basketball as well as over the techniques and tactics that ostensibly best embody and convey that nature. Investigating these discussions I’ve identified clusters of recurrent stories, metaphors, and images, arising around key events and personalities. These clusters make up the objects of study of my work, which I call “myths.” I refer to them as myths not so much to lay bare their failure to correspond to reality, but rather to emphasize that they have become tenaciously held, largely unexamined and influential “truths” within the culture of basketball. Speaking generally, the myths of basketball culture give narrative shape to a collective struggle with changes—particularly related to race—taking place in basketball and in society over a century. Typically, they fabricate an idealized, timeless essence of the game and project it onto a succession of moments, individual players, coaches, and teams or, conversely, fantasize that a contrasting succession poses a destructive threat to that essence. Sometimes, the same myth simultaneously hails an embodiment of basketball’s essence and decries an imagined threat to it.

I devote each chapter of Ball Don’t Lie! to a key myth pertaining to a different era in basketball’s history. Within each chapter, I first employ literary analysis to identify the key elements of the myth in question. I then draw upon existing historical and sociological research to situate this myth in and against the overlapping contexts, in basketball and society, in which it emerged. Finally, I propose alternative narratives of the phenomena in question that attend to the specific tactical and stylistic innovations of particular players in different eras and the ways in which these might carry meaning beyond the boundaries of the basketball court and thereby disrupt the more confining myths that have crystallized around them.

How is Ball Don’t Lie! organized?

I’ve organized the book’s nine chapters into three parts, preceded by a Preface and an Introduction:

  1. Myths of the Basketball Republic (1891-1949)
    1. Ch. 1: The Myth of Creation, December 21, 1891
    2. Ch. 2: The Myth of Foundation, June 6, 1946
  2. Myths of the Basketball State (1949-1991)
    1. Ch. 3: The Myth of the Rivalry, November 7, 1959
    2. Ch. 4: The Myth of the Garden, May 8, 1970
    3. Ch. 5: The Myth of the Amateurs, March 26, 1979
  3. Myths of the Basketball Empire (1991 – Present)
    1. Ch. 6: The Myth of the Greatest of All Time, June 13, 1991
    2. Ch. 7: The Myth of Blackness, March 12, 1997
    3. Ch. 8: The Myth of the Right Way, June 15, 2004
    4. Ch. 9: The Myth of the Man, July 8, 2010