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Caged Ball

This article is more than 16 years old.

"Inside the Cage: A Season At West 4th Street's Legendary Tournament," was written by a guy with a serious stake in maintaining the event, so it's no surprise that he regards the 28-year-old spectacle as significant and invigorating. Wight Martindale, the author, began his association with
this particular manifestation of summer time street basketball as a fan whom the organizers nicknamed "suit." Eventually he ascended to the position of co-director of the tournament, as well as its accountant. But if he's not unbiased in his appreciation of what goes on at West 4th Street, he's at least well informed. He knows Kenny Graham, the man who invented and has sustained the tournament, as a co-worker and friend. He's familiar with many of the players and their families.

One of the things that distinguishes the tournament at West 4th Street, which is in Greenwich Village, is that almost none of the players live in the neighborhood. Most of them come from Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens. Many of the same players have been showing up for years, in part because the court is small enough so that getting older and slower is not the disadvantage it would be elsewhere. The tournament is not without its promising high school players and its 20-something stars who have blown their opportunities by flunking out of the colleges that recruited them, but at West 4th Street, a thirty-five-year-old who can bump and shove his way to good position under the basket can still play.

Inside the Cage is successful as a story of one season in the history of a quirky tournament. Martindale provides his reader with a clear sense of who the tournament organizers and the players are, and the reader cares how things go for most of them. But when he tries to jump past the immediate subject, the author overextends himself. When he starts speculating that "America's schools and black political leaders" have "promoted the idea of the urban victim," and "blacks now believe it without understanding how badly it is hurting them," you want to grab Martindale by the ears and shout: "All America's schools? All black political leaders? All blacks?" His theorizing is similarly dubious when he seems to maintain that young black women do pretty well finding their way in the world without basketball, so there's no real need for them to get involved in the game. How can somebody who's been so close to the game for so long forget that lots of people of both genders play for fun?

This program aired on August 3, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.