Examining the nature, origin, and purpose of popular myths in basketball, past and present
Ball Don't Lie!
Myth, Genealogy, and Invention in the Cultures of Basketball
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Pro basketball player Rasheed Wallace often exclaimed the pragmatic truth "Ball don't lie!" during a game, as a protest against a referee's bad calls. But the slogan, which originated in pickup games, brings the reality of a racialized urban playground into mainstream American popular culture.
In Ball Don't Lie!, Yago Colás traces the various forms of power at work in the intersections between basketball, culture, and society from the game's invention to the present day. He critiques existing popular myths concerning the history of basketball, contextualizes them, and presents an alternative history of the sport inspired by innovations. Colás emphasizes the creative prerogative of players and the ways in which their innovations shape—and are shaped by—broader cultural and social phenomena.
Read the Preface and the Introduction (pdf).
"Ball Don't Lie! is an original, unique, well-conceived, and well-executed work on the history and culture of basketball. In an accessible and engaging writing style, Colás tackles basketball from the perspective of a literary critic. He cleverly sets up each chapter with a myth and then he goes about deconstructing it from a variety of angles. This book can help change how we teach and write about sport."
"Yago Colás' book 'Ball Don't Lie' appreciates basketball's visceral appeal but it also takes the sport seriously and wades through the many assumptions and 'myths' of the sport with some assists from thinkers such as William James, Deleuze, and Nietzsche. Here, praise of teamwork over an individual's virtuosity is questioned (along with the very idea that the point of the game is to win) and controversial figures such as Allen Iverson are recast as 'insurgent[s],' and the recent Hall of Famer's infamous crossover move is described as 'beautifully ephemeral and deceptively magical.' It's a readable and endlessly quotable academic book—a rarity, really."
"[Colás] expose[s] and contest[s] the most prominent historical myths about basketball in the United States. He convincingly demonstrates that white anxieties about blackness and black power have resulted in a NBA history that contains and constrains the influence black players and black styles of play.... Colás's book provides a rich model for making connections between conversations about basketball, racial ideologies, and the broader socioeconomic environment. Through an accessible and entertaining work, he powerfully captures how sport communicates ideas about race that have broad implications and, in turn, how sport provides a productive lens for scholars to explore them."
"Colás tells the story of basketball through the lens of US popular culture and society—i.e., 'language, stereotypes...moral norms—especially those that have to deal with race.'... Noteworthy among the stories presented are the 3-point shot and the ABA style of play, the Larry Bird–Magic Johnson rivalry, the coronation of Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever, and LeBron James and what has become known as 'the decision.' Colás's accessible, literary deconstructions of these myths will deepen readers' understanding of the nature of basketball in the current society. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries."
"Theorizing at the 'intersection of language and basketball,' this cultural study examines the central myths that construct the sport, from basketball’s invention in 1891 to its expansive global present. Colás excavates the naturalization and circulation of the game's predominant myths to demonstrate how 'alternative accounts' of critical genealogies and 'inventions' central to the sport's performance might challenge these narratives. The three chronological sections that organize this project consider how the sport's initial inception, its intersectional growth with the Civil Rights movement, and contemporary global spread have contributed to dynamics of race, class, gender, and 'physical culture' in US society."
"On the surface, Yago Colás's Ball Don't Lie! describes a collection of pivotal moments in hoops history. But digging deeper, readers will find that Colás is actively and intentionally challenging everything they knew (or thought they knew) about the sport of basketball. Using a variety of theoretical and intellectual approaches and drawing on works as varied as Greek philosophers, Michel Foucault, and modern sports journalists, Colás explores nine fundamental myths of the game that, taken together, reflect issues of race, labor, and masculinity played out over more than a century of sport... [E]ven those who are not hoops fans will recognize the importance of Colás's work in cogently discussing controversial topics like race, masculinity, and labor in the context of American sport. Ball Don’t Lie! challenges prevailing wisdom about professional basketball and is so incredibly well written that even readers who don't like basketball will find something to latch onto here."
Preface: In Praise of Heresy
I Myths of the Basketball Republic (1891–1949)
II Myths of the Modern Basketball State (1949–1991)
III Myths of the Basketball Empire (1991–Present)
About the Author(s)
Yago Colás teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature and in the Residential College at the University of Michigan.
Race and Ethnicity
In the series
Sporting, edited by Amy Bass.
As an international cultural activity for athleticism, spectatorship, and global cultural exchange, sport is unmatched by any other force on earth. And yet it remains a consistently understudied dimension of history and cultural studies. Sporting, edited by Amy Bass, aims to contribute to the study of sport by publishing works by people across a range of disciplines, by professional sportswriters, and by athletes to add substance to our still emerging notion of globalization.