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Sneakers in the Stacks

Soul of the game

Cover of John Huet, Soul of the Game: Images & Voices of Street Basketball (New York: Melcher Media/Workman Pub, 1997).

Need help brushing your teeth? Can't stand waiting in line? Have trouble remembering names? Fear not: there's an app for that.

And just as there's now an app for all things, so too is there a book for all things in Watson Library (or most things, anyway!).

Proof of this came when, excited about the start of the NBA season, I searched our catalogue for books on basketball (not necessarily something you'd expect in an art library) and actually found several books on the subject.

The one I was most excited by was Charles Johnstone's artist book Thirtyfour Basketball Courts. Johnstone photographed 34 basketball courts across New York City—in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn (sorry Queens and Staten Island, your courts got no love). Each shot is taken from approximately half-court and directly faces the basket, as you can see in the image below, Classon Playground.

Classon Playground

Classon Playground from Charles Johnstone, Thirtyfour Basketball Courts (New York: Charles Johnstone, 2010).

This particular court is near and dear to my heart: every Saturday I play in a pickup game there (and while the layup below looks somewhat graceful, that is very much the exception to the rule). It's interesting to see how the court has evolved since Johnstone photographed it back in 2008, the vibrant red and white having faded almost completely into the original asphalt-black, while the green holds on, albeit in a significantly muted hue (though they've added a colorful mural to the building in the background, perhaps some sort of cosmic balancing act).

Classon Playground 2017

Seth Scott, amateur hoopster extraordinaire, making (perhaps?) a layup at Classon Playground, 2017. Photo by the author

Another great find—this one put out by the Brooklyn-based publisher PowerHouse Books—features iconic images of NBA legends like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley sporting Nike kicks, as well as old Nike advertisements (like the one below featuring legendary filmmaker Spike Lee).

Spike Lee

Robert Jackson, Sole Provider: 30 Years of Nike Basketball (New York: PowerHouse Books, 2002).

Yet another book about sneakers, Slam Kicks: Basketball Sneakers That Changed the Game, features a shot (below) of eight NBA stars just before the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest. Can any fellow NBA fan name all the players pictured?

Nike Shoes

Ben Osborne, Slam Kicks: Basketball Sneakers That Changed the Game (New York: Universe Publishing, a division of Rizzoli Publications International, 2013).

Some of these books provide a glimpse into how basketball—and more specifically basketball shoes—became a part of American culture. Contrast, for instance, this 1961 ad for Chuck Taylor All Stars with the very different ad for Pro-Keds All-Pros from a decade later (1971).

Chuck Taylor All stars

Chuck Taylor All Stars ad from 1961. From Hal Peterson, Chucks!: The Phenomenon of Converse: Chuck Taylor All Stars (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016).

Keds Pro

Pro-Keds All-Pros ad, 1971. From Bobbito Garcia, Where'd You Get Those?: New York City's Sneaker Culture, 1960-1987 (New York: Testify Books, 2013).

While there may not actually be "a book for that" for every subject in Watson, it's always remarkable what one can find when exploring our catalogue.

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