Transition Game: How Hoosiers Went Hip Hop by John Wertheim is a must-read for any serious basketball fan, and particularly for those fans that have enjoyed basketball in and about the State of Indiana—on all levels.
Using the 2003-2004 season of the author’s alma mater, Bloomington North, as a framework, Wertheim examines the huge changes that have been wrought in the basketball-crazed state of Indiana since his own high school days in the late 1980′s. You can only imagine how it struck this reviewer, whose days in Indiana basketball date to the early 1970′s.
The book is a masterful chronicle, but falls well short of truly examining the phenomena that it reports. The book makes no attempt to examine the root causes of the enormous shift in the game in Indiana, nor does it endeavor to make a significant value judgement about the changes.
The structure of the book, with its emphasis on the Bloomington North Cougars’ march to the Semi-State, seems to say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” but that conclusion is impossible to maintain given the chronicle laid out in the other chapters of the book.
The author devotes but a single chapter to the role race has played in the transition, and fails to look much of the issue squarely in the eye. For example, he rightly points out the lack of public support for the Oscar Robertson-led high school state championship for Crispus Attucks in 1957, particularly as compared to the storied Bobby Plump-led victory for Milan the year before—the win on which the movie Hoosiers was based. He fails to examine that—in my day, I knew the Milan story, but it was Oscar Robertson who I wanted to play like. One was legend, but the other was just good basketball.
In sum, the book is good reporting, but lacks sufficient analysis to give it real importance and depth. It is a must-read for basketball fans, but disappointing in that it could have been so much more to the society at large.
I am restricting this post to being a straighforward review. I will post some more personal reactions to this book, which affected me deeply in another post at my own blog.
Cross posted at Blogotional.