, John Edgar Wideman's new memoir about the aesthetics of basketball, may be one of the best books ever written about the sport, as deft and breathlessly poetic as a Michael Jordan fadeaway jumper. The first chapter of the book is titled More, appropriate because Hoop Roots is about much more than the game. This is the 59-year-old Wideman's look at a lifetime of playing basketball on the playground, in high school, in college and for a few years in Europe. In a sense, this memoir, like the author's previous Brothers and Keepers (about his brother's imprisonment for life on robbery and murder charges) and Fatheralong (about his son's conviction for murder), is also about the search for a father and the loss of so many black men to violence and racism. Writing this memoir was clearly a way for Wideman to explain to himself and to others why the game is so important. It may also have been a way for him to make sense of the loss of his brother and son and the unraveling of his marriage of 30-plus years. Hoop Roots is his way of holding on . . . starting a story so that a story can end. Although Wideman sees professional basketball as a form of blackface minstrelsy, he sees the playground game as one generated by desire: The desire to play. In this sense also it's truly a player's game. It exists nowhere except where and when the players' minds and bodies construct it. . . . The game's pure because it's a product of the players' will and imagination. If the players' desire cools, there is no game. Or at best some sloppy substitute of game not worth bothering with. Wideman is at his best in this book, as smart and lyrical as anyone who has written on the game in the past three decades. Applying his finely textured prose style to the sport, he has written a book that creates shock waves of recognition. When he brings race and family and politics to bear on the subject, he writes with a brisk persuasiveness. Playground hoop, like all cultural practices at the margins, engages in a constant struggle to reinvent itself, pump out new vibrations, new media and messages of yea-saying, saying loudly, clearly, Yes. We're here, still here, and we're human, we're beautiful. So too is Wideman's memoir.
Michael Pearson directs the creative writing program at Old Dominion University.