“There are three sports in Cincinnati: the Bengals, the Reds and college basketball. Sure, there are other sporting events, but that’s what our local society revolves around here, and I wanted to emphasize the role basketball plays in the city’s history,” says University of Cincinnati sports researcher Kevin Grace.
In his book, Cincinnati Hoops, Grace examines “the nation’s strongest basketball rivalry,” the “Bloomer Girls” that played on Cincinnati basketball courts (and the backlash when they traded in the bloomers for uniforms similar to those of the male players), the point-shaving scandals, segregation and a relationship that brought a racially divided nation together. Those are just a few of the stories featured with more than 200 photos in Cincinnati Hoops, a new installment in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of Sports books.
Grace, a UC archivist and adjunct assistant professor, researches and teaches courses at the University of Cincinnati on sports and society. The book is the result of the more than 20 years that Grace has spent researching and collecting the images of Cincinnati’s basketball history.
Grace explains that while the sport was first created by James Naismith for white Christian men at a YMCA in Springfield, Mass., it quickly evolved into a sport that “was embraced by all levels of society and all ethnicities.
“As a matter of fact, basketball had a strong identification as an urban Jewish sport until the mid 1930s. Now, many would consider it an African American sport, and yet now we have a growing number of Europeans playing for the NBA. Also, basketball has been considered somewhat as an Indiana farmyard sport or an inner-city playground sport. But there’s a broad range, and I wanted readers to see the faces of the people who were influential in Cincinnati basketball who have not always been given their due, like George Wilson or Tom Thacker, who played on UC championship teams and had brief professional careers and who still live in the area. And, it’s important to locally recognize the game’s continuing role in the educational experience in America’s schools and universities.”
Cincinnati fans cheer and jeer at one of the nation’s strongest basketball rivalries, UC and Xavier. The “crosstown competitions,” now known as the Crosstown Shootout, used to take place twice a year – at the Cincinnati Gardens, Xavier’s Schmidt Fieldhouse or UC’s Armory Fieldhouse.
Grace says there are several elements that fuel the crosstown rivalry. “Physically, the schools are fairly close, just a few miles apart. Then, there’s this dichotomy between a huge public school and a small private school, sort of a David and Goliath scenario. And, despite the difference in the size and educational profile of the two institutions, they’ve always been fairly close on the court in terms of competition.
“The rivalry is also fueled by the large number of UC and Xavier alumni who stay in town and raise their families. And, of course, there have been the fan and coaching moments that have heightened the rivalry,” Grace says.
Grace’s intent to match the Cincinnati faces with the sport focuses on the familiar and not-so-familiar, from a smiling Bob Huggins to Oscar Robertson to Mercy High School coach Mary Jo Huismann. There are many Cincinnati Royals images, when the team played against some of the greatest players in the history of the sport, including Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Hal Greer. “The Gardens was this dynamic basketball palace and fans saw incredible achievements here in Cincinnati basketball,” Grace says.
The story of Cincinnati Royals player Maurice Stokes holds a beloved place in the sport’s history after a near-fatal head injury during a game in 1958 moved fellow teammate Jack Twyman to become his guardian and organize NBA all-star games to raise money for Stokes’ care. “This relationship between an African American basketball player and a white player, during a time of severe racial disharmony, became a positive friendship that garnered national attention.”
In emphasizing some familiar points in Cincinnati’s hoops history, Grace also wanted to address some myths. “There was always the myth that Oscar Robertson was the first African American basketball player at UC, but he was actually the fifth. Chester Smith, the first, played for UC from 1931-34.”
Grace says he had to include a closing photo of one of his personal favorite hoops celebrities, Jack “Truck” Jennings, a mainstay at the summer CityWide AA games.
Cincinnati Hoops is now available ($19.99 paperback) at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Waldenbooks, New World Bookshop, the Cincinnati Gallery, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, UC Bookstore and the Xavier University Bookstore.
Book-signings for Cincinnati Hoops and for the book, Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine:
Thursday, Dec. 4
7 p.m., Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Friday, Dec. 5
4-6:30 p.m., UC Bookstore