Like those people who only tune into sports during the Olympics, I only watch basketball during March Madness. Seriously, you will never see me tuning into a game during the regular season, but I’m glued to the TV once the tournament starts.
I remember loathing March Madness when I was a theatre director. Second only to senior tag, March Madness was pretty disruptive. I’d be sitting in the house running a rehearsal and suddenly everyone’s missing entrances. I wasn’t too nice when I learned they were watching a basketball game. But now, I completely understand. Yesterday, I was at my own son’s lacrosse game and I found myself checking the app and watching college kids I’ve never met play basketball just because it was a close game.
The beginning of the tournament is so exciting, but with no games until Thursday, what will we do with our time? Well, I just happen to have some great book recommendations for you. If you can’t get enough basketball (or your team has already been eliminated), check out these great basketball-themed books.
Attucks!: How Crispus Attucks Basketball Broke Racial Barriers and Jolted the World (2018) by Phillip Hoose
In 1955, the Crispus Attucks Tigers went down in history as the first state champions from Indianapolis and the first all-black team in U.S. history to win a non-segregated championship tournament. This YA book was so well-written and compelling. I couldn’t put it down and teared up multiple times. This team beat unbeatable odds to win that championship and you’ll be a Tigers fan by the end of the book. Also, Indiana basketball is insane. Just saying.
Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, its Chaotic Founding... its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis (2019) by Sam Anderson
This book is hard to describe. It’s about basketball (specifically the Oklahoma City Thunder) but mostly, it’s about the history of this remarkable city that was established at noon on April 22, 1889 as the result of the Land Run. It’s about a sprawling city, natural disasters, and those who got there “sooner” than the others. More interesting than the subject matter of the book is the storytelling. I absolutely loved it.
Sooley, a Novel (2022) by John Grisham.
This is a fictional story about a South Sudanese teenager, Samual Sooleymon, who leaves his war-torn home for the first time at age 17 to play in a basketball tournament in the US. Not long after arriving, he receives news that rebel troops have ransacked his village killing his father. His sister is missing, and his mother and two younger brothers are in a refugee camp. “Sooley” can’t come home, so he sets his sights on college basketball to help protect and provide for his family. If you’re a fan of the atypical John Grisham novels, this is one you don’t want to miss. You’ll be chanting, “Sooley, Sooley, Sooley” and wishing you could watch footage of this fictional basketball player.
Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing (2018) by Wil Haygood
-Another book about a high school team called the Tigers. How fitting since my high school (also the Tigers) won the state championship just yesterday. This book has a local pull for me since it takes place in Columbus. In fact, some of the people quoted in this book are former colleagues of mine. When I called my Dad to recommend this book, he remembered this amazing team from East High. They will dribble their way right into your heart. Just like they did mine.
I loved so much about this middle grade novel. Jayson does all he can to avoid the foster care system after his mother dies and her boyfriend abandons him. He gets caught trying to steal a pair of basketball shoes and learns that he’s not alone in the world. This is a story of hope, determination, and basketball. I loved how the author portrayed the foster parents. Unlike the typical monsters you see in most books, they were a lot like my wonderful friends who foster and do everything they can to love and support their kids. This is a middle grade book, but it’s not just for kids. I'm an adult (for the most part) and I really enjoyed it.
I hope you take me up on these recommendations. These books are never just about a sport, but they use a sport to remind us that we all hope for the same things. There's so much heart in these stories.