Crashing the Borders : How Basketball Won the World and Lost Its Soul at Home
Unflinching, timely, and authoritative, Crashing the Borders is the beginning of a much-needed conversation about sport and American culture. For those who care about both, this book will be the must-read work of the season.
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The game of basketball has gone global and is now the
world's fastest-growing sport. Talented players from
Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa are literally
crashing the borders as the level of their game now often
equals that of the American pros, who no longer are sure
winners in international competition and who must compete
with foreign players for coveted spots on NBA rosters. Yet
that refreshing world outlook stands in stark contrast to
the game's troubled image here at home. The concept of team
play in the NBA has declined as, in the aftermath of the
Michael Jordan phenomenon, the league's marketers and
television promoters have placed a premium on hyping
individual stars instead of teams, and the players have
come to see that big-buck contracts and endorsements come
to those who selfishly demand the spotlight for themselves.
Even worse, relations between players and fans are at a low
ebb. Players are perceived to be overpaid, ill-behaved, and
arrogant. Fans, paying hundreds of dollars for tickets,
often act boorishly and tauntingly. This tension boiled
over on the night of November 19, 2004, at the Palace of
Auburn Hills, Michigan, during a Detroit Pistons-Indiana
Pacers game, when players brawled with fans as much as each
other in what was, in fact, a racial skirmish. When the
Pacer players entered the stands throwing punches, they had
truly smashed an altogether different kind of border.
In the aftermath of that sorry spectacle, regular-season
television ratings declined for NBA games. Playoff-game
ratings plummeted. Sales in NBA-licensing products sagged
by a reported 30 percent. For the millions of Americans who
cherish basketball, the love affair has reached a state of
Few people care as deeply and know as much about basketball
as Harvey Araton, the highly literate and well-traveled
sports columnist for The New York Times. For many a season,
Araton has observed "the ballers," as the players call
themselves, at college tournaments, the NBA, and the
Olympics. He has enjoyed a pressbox seat while watching the
great 1980s rivalries of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the
transcendent career of Michael Jordan, and the slow
unraveling of the game through the 1990s until the present
season, as newly arrived players and league officials
misunderstood and misapplied the mixed lessons of Jordan's
legacy. Calling on his many years of watching games, of
locker-room interviews, of world-hopping reportage, Araton
takes us to scenes of vivid play on the court and to off-
camera dramas as well.
In this taut, simmering book, the author points his finger
at the greed and exploitation that has weakened the
American game. And with uncommon journalistic courage, he
opens a discussion on the volatile, undiscussed subject
that lies at the heart of basketball's crisis: race. It
begins, he argues, at the college level, where, too often,
undereducated, inner-city talents are expected to perform
for the benefit of affluent white crowds and to fill the
coffers of their respective schools in what Araton calls a
kind of "modern-day minstrel show." It continues at the pro
level, where marketers have determined that "gangsta"
imagery provides for a livelier entertainment package,
never mind the effect it has on the quality of team play.
And where, moreover, players themselves, often both street
smart and immature, decide to live up to the thuggish
Harvey Araton knows the players well enough to see beyond
the stereotypes. He knows that for every clownish Dennis
Rodman there is also an admirable David Robinson. For every
Ron Artest, there is a Tim Duncan. Combining passion and
knowledge, he calls on the NBA to heal itself and, with a
hopeful sense of the possible, he points the way to a
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