Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world. It was invented by a Canadian in the United States in 1891, and gradually gained ground to ultimately become the huge media sensation that it is today. Nowadays, basketball is synonymous with show business, entertainment, fashion, and rap. Although it now revolves around incredible performances and world-famous names, it is still also a haven for many young people from the suburbs, who grow up with little support from either family or society.
In 1973, Sports Illustrated sent a young journalist and photojournalist, Rick Telander, to one of these suburbs, Brooklyn, to find a good story. At the time, the neighbourhood was one of the roughest in the country, but Rick was so fascinated by the way of life in Brooklyn that he decided to go back later to conduct his own, independant anthropological research. Over the many days that he spent on these street basketball courts, which the locals referred to as playgrounds, he noticed several contradictions and disparities that reflected the social and economic alienation of the African-American community. As a basketball fan, he decided to delve into the issue further. The summer he spent with the enigmatic and respected neighbourhood ticket scalper, Rodney Parker, formed the basis of Heaven is a Playground, which is still considered one of the best sports books ever written.
This book is a story about young people who dream of success, but who see their ambitions thwarted by the inherent racism of a social system that prevents them from reaching their potential. It is also a gripping tale of the author’s first-hand experience in a complex community that embodies the history of basketball.
Basketball is typically known as a Black sport, but the author often wondered why this is the case. Is it simply a question of genetics, or the hunger for success? The answer is really not that straightforward. Perhaps it is a combination of both, but Telander is certain of one thing: if such huge talents as James ‘Fly’ Williams and Albert King emerged from this little corner of the world called Forest Park, it is also thanks to people like Rodney Parker.