The Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
It’s finally March. Which means it’s time to get serious about basketball. Not the Bulls—that’s just too sad. And the NCAA tournament doesn’t start for two more weeks. But the Illinois high school basketball finals are already underway. The girls’ class 1 and 2 championship games were last weekend (go Danville and Marshall!), but we still have classes 3 and 4 to go, plus all the boys’ games.
To get yourself in the spirit, settle in with “A Simple Game,” Ben Joravsky’s account of the 1991-’92 season, which he spent with the Roosevelt High School Rough Riders. I can’t claim to have made an exhaustive search, but I’d find it hard to believe anybody ever wrote a finer piece about high school basketball.
It begins at the end, with guard Terrell Redmond preparing to take a foul shot that, if it goes in, will advance the Rough Riders another round in the Public League playoffs. Joravsky makes no pretense of objectivity—or immunity to sports cliches, or why they exist:
I too was standing, my eyes half covered, almost afraid to look. I had been watching the team since tryouts, following them through injuries and illnesses, fights and fallouts, heartbreaking losses, disciplinary suspensions, and countless incredibly boneheaded teenage mistakes. And now, to tell you the truth, I was hooked. In love with the kids, their coach, the whole history of Roosevelt High.
I wanted Terrell to sink those shots because in 23 years of coaching Manny Weincord had never won a basketball title. Because Roosevelt was an average team in an awesome league. Because they played on slippery floors in dimly lit gyms before empty bleachers without cheerleaders, bands, or even parents present.
I wanted him to make those shots so that tomorrow’s papers would have to cover them. Because the papers rarely cover them, and the scouts rarely watch them, and their last title was in 1952, when the school was Jewish and Manny was on an Army ship bound for Korea.
I had this idea that if they won, Terrell would be a star, and the papers would quote Manny, and the school would hold a pep rally, and they’d bedeck the auditorium with bunting of blue and gold, and when the team hit the stage their classmates would cheer. My God, I wanted them to win.
The story is long. But so is the basketball championship season. Joravsky thoughtfully organized the whole thing in short sections that read like diary entries. Draw it out. Savor it.