Friday, March 29, 2013

A Game Born of Necessity

John Coy

The subtitle of Hoop Genius by John Coy, illustrated by Joe Morse, succinctly describes the reason the game exists today: "How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball." The young men at the YMCA had already run off two teachers by the time James Naismith arrived in December 1891. Naismith wanted to keep the guys from having excessive physical contact while also giving them maximum exercise.

Naismith combined a popular game from his Canadian childhood ("Duck on a Rock"), which rewarded skills in accuracy, with a requirement for speed, as the players ran up and down the court, defending their own basket and attempting to shoot into the basket of their opponents. The simple requirements of the game--two peach baskets and a ball--accounted for the speed with which the game's popularity spread. The game's 13 rules fit neatly on two double-spaced typed pages (reproduced on the book's endpapers).

Joe Morse's artwork connects past and present. He begins with stylized artwork in a muted palette of burgundy and cornflower blue, which includes period details but also conveys the immediacy and fast pace of the game. The contemporary images of the game at the close of the picture book connect back to that raw energy of those early unruly boys back in 1891.

As we draw down to the Final Four, we have a better appreciation for how James Naismith helped channel the energy of those young men (and a few young women, too) to bring us to the March Madness of today.

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