Bread City Basketball


BASKETBALL IN IRAQ

I. American troops play basketball in Saddam Hussein’s occupied Birthday Palace. Tikrit, Iraq, 2004.

Iraq Saddam's Palace Tikrit Basketball
original photo by Paolo Woods

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II. The 1948 Summer Games in London was the first and only time that Iraq fielded an Olympic basketball team. They sustained five of the tournament’s worst defeats. Iraq lost to China, Korea, the Philippines, and Chile by an average of 86 points per game. The United States won gold.

Iraqi Olympic Basketball Team

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III. “The next week, back in Baghdad, I had a whiskey one evening with the Time bureau manager and a pair of reporters and told them about the killings at the basketball game… The bureau manager lit another cigarette as we sat in silence for a moment. ‘And especially, basketball being a pro-Western sport was nonsense,’ he said. ‘Iraqis have been playing basketball for fifty years, since long before all this. They love it.'”
– From The End of Major Combat Operations, by Nick McDonnell

Richard Mosse's Iraq
photo by Richard Mosse



BILL BRADLEY: BASKETBALL POET

What attracted me was the swish, the sound of the dribble, the feel of going up in the air. You don’t need eight others, like in baseball. You don’t need any brothers or sisters. Just you. I wonder what the guys are doing back home. I’d like to be there, but it’s as much fun here, because I’m playing. It’s getting dark. I have to go back for dinner. I’ll shoot a couple more. Feels good. A couple more.
– From A Sense of Where you Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton, by John McPhee

The Knicks stole Bill Bradley in the 1965 NBA Draft. There was no frozen envelope, just a now-obscure rule known as the Territorial Pick. Between 1950 and 1966, NBA teams had first dibs on drafting any college player within 50 miles.

Bradley had graduated from Princeton as the Associated Press Player of the Year, the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and a two-time First Team All-American. And since Princeton, New Jersey is 1 mile closer to New York City than to Philadelphia, the Knicks were able to scoop Bradley away from the 76ers as a Territorial Pick.

The rest is history: Bradley played with New York for his entire basketball career – save for one season with Olimpia Milano – and his #24 jersey was retired by the Knicks in 1984.

Bill Bradley Knick



WOODY AND THE KNICKS

In 1971 I wrote and shot a scene for Annie Hall involving the Knicks and Earl The Pearl. I was extolling the concept of the physical over the cerebral, so I wrote a fantasy basketball game in which all the great thinkers of history – Kant and Nietzsche and Kirkegaard – played against the Knicks. I cast actors who looked like those philosophers to play those roles and they played against the real Knicks. We used the players on the team at that time including Earl, Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier, and we shot it inside Madison Square Garden after the last game of the season. Of course the Knicks were smooth and beat the philosophers easily; all their cerebration was impotent against the Knicks. But I cut the scene from the picture, not because it didn’t come out but because I had to keep the picture moving and it was too much of a digression. It didn’t break my heart not to use it in the film. I always feel that anything I cut out of a film is always a mercy killing.
– Woody Allen, The Observer Sport Monthly, 1/6/02

Another example of the profound cultural impact the Knicks had on New York during the early 1970s. Willis Reed and company brought pro hoops to the forefront of the city’s popular consciousness for the first time, winning two championships along the way. Before then, the NBA wasn’t really legit in NYC, and people only cared about college ball.

It was the most volatile era in New York’s modern history. A time of grime and racial tension. Crime skyrocketing. Junkies ruling the parks. Student protestors and construction workers brawling on Wall Street. The South Bronx burning down to rubble. Cops with German Shepherds patrolling the graffiti-covered subway cars.

And yet amidst all the antipathy, the entire city was united in its passion for the Knicks. It wasn’t because of one or two individual players. It was because together, the Knicks’ game aesthetically complemented New York so perfectly. A melting pot of styles, races, and personalities that melded to form an unstoppable team. Flashy at times, but blue collar at heart, with a deep bench that could outlast top-heavy teams like Wilt Chamberlain’s Lakers.

All that remains of Woody Allen’s 1971 Knicks footage is the still frame below. It was used as a lobby card during Annie Hall‘s original theatrical run. According to Allen, the rest of the scene was destroyed.

woody allen knicks annie hall



BLACK BART SIMPSON
August 29, 2011, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Art, Bread City, History | Tags: , , , ,

While he [Matt Groening] is “flattered” by the street response to “The Simpsons,” “I must say I have mixed feelings. You have to have mixed feelings when you’re getting ripped off,” Groening says.
– The Washington Post, 6/28/90

It was more than just a bootleg. Combining hip hop culture references with hand-drawn illustrations, black Bart Simpson t-shirts were an underground phenomenon in the late 80s and early 90s. A cultural meme before the internet even existed.

Not only did the shirts look cool, but they carried a whiff of black market cache. It was the opposite of rocking a label. Black Bart didn’t mean that you had money, but he meant you were in-the-know.

The shirts were hawked in concert parking lots, hung in boardwalk tourist traps, laid out on folding tables in the Fulton Mall, and crowded into Chinatown’s fake-rolex shops. They were sold in the small, unregulated economies between the cracks of the American retail landscape. There was no headquarters to shut down. The shirts were produced and distributed through a network of independent hustlers and small fries operating concurrently.

Matt Groening couldn’t stop it. 20th Century Fox couldn’t stop it. Black Bart shirts stopped because they belonged to hip hop subculture. When they entered the mainstream, their cred burned up in the light and production got big enough to shut down.

This is my undisputed Shangri-La of bootleg Bart shirts. The MC Hammer/Jordan Flight mash-up and the composition is so fresh. Can’t touch this!



EBBETS FIELD REMIX

The first night game at Ebbets Field was played on June 15, 1938. Colorized in 2009.

brooklyn dodgers art
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NAVAJO SWASTIKA BASKETBALL

The all-native basketball team in the photo below was balling back in 1909, which explains the swastika unis. Scholars agree that the symbol comes from India, but it is also a part of American Indian culture. For the Navajo Nation, the swastika represents the legend of the Whirling Logs. The story is about a journey down a river in a hollowed out tree. It involves multiple Gods, and a pet turkey with a lot of personality.

The important thing is that the Whirling Logs legend is a part of the Night Chant, a nine day long ceremonial performance considered the most sacred of all Navajo ceremonies. It is a healing ritual that is performed to both cure the sick, and to restore order and balance to the universe.

Sans swastikas, basketball is still fanatically popular amongst American Indians, but the group has long been severely underrepresented in college ball. Why? Because Division I and II scouts are only allowed to attend high school tournaments that are NCAA certified. Until recently, NCAA certification rules stated that all teams must reside in the same state as a given tournament. This made it impossible for American Indian high schools to participate in any certified tournament, because tribal citizens are technically not state residents.

The NCAA made an exception to this rule in 2007, and this year’s NCAA certified Native American Basketball Invitational, a showcase for high school age teams, will take place in Phoenix, July 7-11.



Brooklyn Basketball Game, 1963
October 3, 2007, 3:22 am
Filed under: Basketball, Bread City, Brooklyn, History, New York City, Photography | Tags: ,

brooklyn basketball 8 mm

8mm film still captured by Joyce