As a kid growing up in New York City during the 1990s, I can definitely say that there was nothing else like it. As I sit here writing more than two decades from my formative years, it did not feel like it then, but it was something magical about the city then. The city has seen its share of triumphs in sports, but it seemed as though, everything was converging.
The college teams within the city like St. John’s University was seeing resurgence and the Knicks were being coached by Pat Riley, and had made it to the finals. Since then, the city has gotten two other professional basketball teams, my beloved Knicks have gotten a rebirth, and my love for basketball has endured. As a fan of the game, I have watched every basketball movie in existence, and often found the ones that I have re-watched because they stayed with me, had more to do with people than basketball. In Gene Luen Yang’s semi-autobiographical memoir, Dragon Hoops, we get one such story which is not only about basketball, but how it intersects with race, class and identity.
In “Prologue: Mr. Yang” Gene lets us know how he never liked basketball form a youth, which is tied mostly to the fact that he was not particularly good at it, which pushed his interests into stories, leading him to write and draw graphic novels and also becoming a high school teacher. Soon after he published his first graphic novel, he looked for his next great story, which was pretty close to him, as the school he thought at, their basketball team was becoming good, and making the local news, so he started by talking to the coach, Lou. In “Chapter 1: Lou”, where we find out that he was not always a great basketball player but grew into one and became an even better coach. In “Chapter 2: Ivan and Paris”, we meet the two stars of the team who has not had an easy time growing up in Oakland but has not let that stopped from striving. In “Chapter 3: Bishop O’Dowd Dragons vs. De La Salle Spartans”, the Michael Brown decision in Ferguson has an uneasy effect on the team right before a game. In “Chapter 4: Coach Phelps”, we found out about the man who coached the team before Lou, and just how enigmatic he was, as he became the most winningest coach of all time in California basketball history. In “Chapter 5: Bishop Gorman Gaels Vs Bishop O’Dowd Dragons”, gene finds out just how difficult it is for Lou to decide who gets minutes in the game, which causes one player to quit the team and transfer to a school where he would get minutes. In “Chapter 6: Oderah and Arinze”, we meet a brother and sister who took the school by storm, with their athletic prowess in basketball and their journeys at Bishop O’Dowd. In “Chapter 7: Bishop O’Dowd Dragons Vs Montverde Eagles”, the team play a game that is broadcasted on ESPN, giving them a formidable opponent. In “Chapter 8: Jeevin”, we find out about only the Sikh plaer on the team and the obstacles he faces in class and the racism he has to deal with , from crowds. In Chapter 9: Bishop O’Dowd Dragons Vs Waynesville Tigers”, the team wins a road game and Gene finds that his work life balance is harder to maintain than he ever imagined. In “Chapter 10: Qianjun(Alex)”, we find about the only Chinese born player on the team, and the road he took . In ” Chapter 11: Moreau Catholic Mariners Vs Bishop O’Dowd Dragons”, the team faces a tough opponent , while Gene contemplates leaving teaching altogether and working in comics full time. In “Chapter 12: Austin”, we meet the one player who already a plan after he finishes school, while we find how much Gene changes from the actual story. In “Chapter 13: Mater Dei Monarchs Vs Bishop O’Dowd Dragons”, the team makes it to the state championship, and though they fought a superior opponent, they won through grace and grit. In the final chapter” Epilogue: Gene”, Gene finally leaves the school and says his goodbye, starting a new chapter for him and his family.
Overall, Dragon Hoops is an engrossing journey that becomes very personal and heartfelt. The story by Yang is enthralling and enlightening, as most of the chapters intersperses the larger narrative with bits of basketball history throughout. The art by the creative team is beautiful. Altogether, Dragon Hoops is an excellent story that shows basketball is really about the people who play it.
Story: Gene Luen Yang Art: Gene Luen Yang, Rianne Meyers, Kolbe Yang Color: Lark Pien
Story: 10 Art: 9.8 Overall: 9.9 Recommendation: Buy
First Second provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Purchase: Amazon – Kindle – Zeus Comics – Bookshop