A dynamic, emotional study of one college basketball team’s role in the civil rights movement.
Michael Lenehan’s Ramblers chooses one college basketball team, and one season, to illustrate a sea change in the sport–and in the United States. The Loyola Chicago team of 1963 was not the first to send black and white players out on the court together, but Lenehan makes an excellent case for the significance of this particular team’s actions at a key moment in the national struggle for civil rights. He examines their competition over the course of the season, focusing on two teams in particular: Mississippi State, whose players had to sneak out of state due to a ban on playing teams with nonwhite members, and Cincinnati, which was also an integrated team, but one with an increasingly antiquated playing style.
Relying on primary sources and interviews to study a handful of individual players, coaches and administrators, Ramblers passionately evokes the beauty of a great game in a time of great change, and works as a metaphor for changes taking place across the nation as well. Lenehan handles the game with an ease and comfort that indicate his expertise, and Ramblers combines his passion for basketball with an intimately detailed history–including a deeply moving digression into the 1962 riots at Oxford, Miss. Lenehan eventually follows each of his subjects through to the present (or the ends of their lives), giving Ramblers a feeling of completeness. Throughout, he maintains a sense of fun appropriate to a book that’s ultimately about the antics of college kids.
This review originally ran as a *starred review* in the March 19, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!