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Original Issue


I had a lot of fun with The In-Your-Face Basketball Book by Chuck Wielgus Jr. and Alexander Wolff (Everest House, hard-cover $11.95, paperback $7.95), an oversized book celebrating the joys of pickup basketball. Because the authors are white, I'd doubted that they could write about what is essentially a black game without fawning or posturing. They conquered my doubts.

Sure, they get cute every once in a while, and now and again they indulge in a bit of ersatz soul-brotherizing, but on the whole they've put together a straightforward, entertaining and informative guide to the "vernacular, conventions, rituals, folk heroes and pecking order" of playground basketball. If they've left anything out, I'm unaware of it.

Their underlying assumption is that what people who play pickup basketball are looking for is "face." In their lexicon of "Asphalt Argot," they define face as follows: "That intangible at stake in first-rate playground encounters that makes even single plays memorable. When face is at stake, you can do only one of two things: save it or lose it."

For those in search of face, the authors have assembled voluminous advice that is fun to read and presumably could be followed to good effect. They describe the various schoolyard games, from One-on-None through Five-on-Five , H-O-R-S-E and such arcana as Seven-Up and Scuttlebutt. They tell you how to pick a team; "Go for speed" is their first rule, and "Avoid chumps" their last. They tell you what to wear ("black socks simply won't do"), and how to behave.

In that regard, their comments are especially trenchant. To whites hoping to join blacks at play they counsel: "Don't bandy funky phrases about.... Offering an unsolicited explanation on how you believe affirmative action is necessary to achieve a truly integrated society won't help you either." And to "the only black on a white playground" they offer this warning: "Whites, once universally flattered by a black player in their midst and almost childlike in their desire to soak up some of the Afro-American karma, are becoming more assertive."

Other pleasures: thumbnail sketches of a dozen playground greats; some good photos; and an eclectic coast-to-coast selection of playgrounds where the action is hot. Even for those of us who get our basketball strictly off the TV set, The In-Your-Face Basketball Book is a delight.