The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph by Scott Ellsworth
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (March 10, 2015)
The Secret Game is a book that comes highly recommended by the likes of Bob Ryan, Mike Krzyzewski, and Roland Lazenby. Ryan says that it "is much more than a story about basketball."
A full decade before the Civil Rights movement began, Ellsworth exposes not just the history of basketball but the bravery of the African Americans and whites fighting against segregation in the South, especially North Carolina.
At the North Carolina College for Negroes, John McLendon, the future Hall of Fame coach, was borrowing from James Naismith as he worked to invent a fast-paced form of basketball. A group of former college players at the all-white Duke University had formed a team at the medical school and didn't just defeat the Duke varsity team, they beat everybody that played them. All but one team.
Standing in Duke's way was McLendon's team in the spring of 1944. These two teams were risking it all--their futures, their freedom--to play a game that was unheard of in the South. Think about it. Brown had yet to be decided. The bus boycotts in Montgomery hadn't started yet. Jackie Robinson's Major League debut was a full three years away from happening. Before all those events even happened, two teams of basketball players made history on their own.
Until now, there story hadn't been told. Ellsworth tells their story in the vein of Seabiscuit and The Boys in the Boat. This book is researched and sourced. In both daring and dangerous ways, two groups push back against segregation in order to play basketball. Ellsworth reminds us who heroes are and what they can be.