Reuben A. Buford May is a self-confessed basketball junkie. He played the sport as a young boy and, later, as a student-athlete at Aurora University. While working as a sociology professor at the University of Georgia, he spent years as an assistant coach with a high school basketball program located in a metro area outside of Atlanta. This experience led to his second book, “Living Through the Hoop: High School Basketball, Race, and the American Dream” (New York University Press; Amazon).
In “Living Through the Hoop,” May examines the appeal of basketball among youth at Northeast High School. (May has changed the actual name of the school, as well as the names of the students and other coaches in the book, for confidentiality purposes.) At the predominantly African-American school, May observes the players’ lives, on and off the court, and chronicles their triumphs and failures. And, as documented in the film “Hoop Dreams,” May notes that the promise of NBA riches and fame continues to exert a powerful and, at times, dangerous pull.
“Basketball offers young black men . . . a chance to hope for better in spite of their dismal starting point,” May writes. “These young men should no more be derided than any of us who invest our lives in long-shot dreams. After all, such dreams are conceived in a society that says to all, ‘you all can achieve whatever you want if you work for it.’ The sad reality is that young black men continue to be disproportionately blocked from achieving alternatives to hoop dreams.”
Part memoir, part ethnography, “Living Through the Hoop” was the co-winner of the Book of the Year award from the Association of Humanist Sociology.
May is a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University. Currently, he is a fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
SportsLetter recently spoke with Professor May by phone.
— David Davis